Nearly half of teenagers concerned about having children in future, says new poll

13 February 2024, 00:02 | Updated: 13 February 2024, 01:25

More than four in 10 students, aged 16 to 18, are concerned about having children in the future, according to new research.

Some of the reasons they gave in an online poll, involving 20 schools in England, were fears about pregnancy and childbirth, self-doubt, financial burdens, health and wellbeing, hindrance to personal aspirations and non-inclusive LGBTQ+ education.

Many of those questioned also did not think they were being taught enough about reproductive health.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) pointed to gaps in young people's education, including not being told about reproductive issues like endometriosis, infertility and the impact of lifestyle on fertility.

In the survey of 931 pupils, those who did not want children in the future cited reasons such as climate change and the "turbulent state of the world", and negative associations with pregnancy and childbirth.

The poll found nearly two in three (64%) students wanted to have kids in the future, but 45% said they had worries about future parenthood.

One female student said: "The state of the world is in a shambles. Governments are corrupt. The environment is deteriorating... it would be cruel to put a child through any of our problems, especially since they are not getting better."

Read more: Maternity deaths at highest levels in 20 years, study finds

Nearly two in three (65%) students rated the sex education they had got as adequate or below, and nearly half (49%) said they did not know when a woman was most fertile.

When asked how their sex and fertility education could be improved, they suggested making the curriculum more inclusive, as well as the need for honest, transparent and "non-judgmental teaching and sex positivity".

One female student said: "All we've done in school is go over and over having safe sex and talked about periods which, whilst it is important, is barely scratching the surface of things people need to know about.

"If miscarriage and infertility were better taught, then that could reduce the guilt and embarrassment people who struggle with it would feel."

Lack of interest in future parenthood

Senior author Professor Joyce Harper, from the UCL EGA Institute for Women's Health, said: "Sadly, a number of female students expressed a lack of interest in future parenthood due to their fears about pregnancy and childbirth.

"Shortcomings in fertility education in schools also meant that students were left feeling both ill-informed and negative towards their own fertility and ability to have children."

Relationships and sex education have been compulsory in secondary schools in England since September 2020, while relationship education has been compulsory in primary schools.

Statutory guidance from the government on relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) says facts about reproductive health, including fertility, and the menopause should be taught to pupils by the end of secondary school in England.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "By the time students enter post-16 settings, they will already have had a number of years of compulsory lessons on relationships, health and sex education (RSHE) and science, which covers topics including menstruation, contraception, fertility and the menopause.

"We are also currently considering a recommendation from the Women and Equalities Select Committee to make RSHE compulsory for young people in post-16 settings."

Two studies, published in the journal Human Fertility and the Health Education Journal, looked at the results of the survey which questioned Year 12 and 13 students and was carried out between May 2021 and July 2022.