Here are the facts: since 1998, the proportion of pregnancies in under-18s has fallen by a remarkable 34%, to 30.9 per thousand. Until then the number had been rising since the late 1960s. But here's what people wrongly think: Ipsos Mori says people think 25 times more under-16s get pregnant than really do. Oddly, the 15- to 24-year-olds themselves grossly overestimate the rate. They think 40% of their own generation of under-18s get pregnant – which would mean 12 in a classroom of 30. Most people (80%) think teen pregnancy is still rising.
The Conservatives ran a grossly misleading campaign at the last election, following Iain Duncan Smith's fear-inducing Breakdown Britain reports. Moral panic about everything was their theme, figures often wildly wrong. An election document called Labour's Two Nations claimed that a staggering 54% of 15- to 17-year-olds in the most deprived areas were getting pregnant. The real figure was 5.4%. When caught out, they said it was an errant decimal point – but that figure was repeated three times without anyone at Tory head office stopping to wonder whether it could possibly be right. That suggested deep ignorance of life in the large parts of Britain they don't represent, distant "bad lands" of their worst imaginings.
At that time Chris Grayling was called out by the UK Statistics Authority for his misleading use of figures to try to claim violent crime was rising, when it had been falling for years – and still is. But ignorance is the right's friend, bogus figures bolstering wrong public estimates of benefit fraud (24%; real figure 0.7%) or numbers of black and Asian people, (a third, real number 11%). When people talk of "single mothers" they imagine girls, like the "young ladies" Peter Lilley mocked in the horrible "little list" he once sang to the Conservative party conference, about teenagers getting pregnant to get a council flat. In real life, the average age of single mothers is 38.
The drop in teenage pregnancies is the success story of our time | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian