One in five sexually-active teenage girls has been pregnant by the age of 18, new figures have revealed.
The first study of its kind found that 83 per cent of girls have lost their virginity by this age and 18 per cent of these youngsters have been pregnant at least once.
About half chose to keep their babies and more than a third had an abortion, according to the Government survey.
Worryingly, more than 1,300 18-year-old girls have been pregnant three or more times.
Previous research has shown that girls feel they are under increasing pressure to have sex before they are ready, partly because of sexual images projected in marketing and media aimed at teenagers.
The statistics from the latest study show more than a quarter of girls said they had not waited until the age of consent and twenty-seven per cent of 4,298 girls questioned for the study had lost their virginity by the time they turned 16.
This data once again reignites the controversy over the UK’s teenage pregnancy rate, which remains the highest in Western Europe, and Labour’s decade of failure to tackle the problem.
Figures released earlier this year revealed there were more pregnancies among girls under 18 in England in 2008 that there were in 2001.
Family values campaigners have long warned that easy access to contraception and poor quality sex education has failed to encourage teenagers to say ‘no’ continues to fuel the problem.
The survey shows how education plays an important role for youngsters as they are significantly less likely to have been pregnant by 18 if they got good grades at school and their parents have been educated to undergraduate level.
Children who live with both parents are half as likely to engage in under-age sex, according to the study, published by the Department for Education.
According to the survey, 83 per cent of 18-year-old girls were sexually active.
Of this group, 14 per cent had been pregnant once, three per cent twice and 0.5 per cent three times, equating to about 1,300 of the 18-year-old female population.
Of those who had been pregnant at least once, just under half went on to have the baby, while 36 per cent had an abortion.
A further 18 per cent reported having a had miscarriage.
Girls who gained mainly D to G grades at GCSE were more likely than higher-achievers to have fallen pregnant in a ‘noticeable trend’, the study warned.
‘Other factors which appear to be associated with increased likelihood of pregnancy were being eligible for free school meals at age 16, having parents who are in more manual occupations and having parents who had lower educational attainment,’ the report said.
For the study, girls who reported being sexually active were asked by the researchers if they had ever been pregnant, and, if so, the outcomes of those pregnancies.