This paper outlines an agenda on teenage pregnancy in New Zealand that would provide what policy makers need to know in order to carry out their tasks.This will include assessing the actual state of affairs and whether there is a problem to address, identifying the sectors of the population involved, developing policy options, and evaluating the results of intervention programmes.The related notion, that all students from a particular group, identified, for example, by its social or ethnic origin, are each equally "carriers" of a specified weight of disadvantage, a virtual handicap, is a further common error.
Studies within this paradigm emphasise the need for sex education aimed at the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and the control of sexually transmitted diseases.
Specific health concerns, however, do not exhaust the reasons for taking a legitimate interest in the sexual activity of young people and its consequences in pregnancy (Cunningham 1984, Simms and Simms 1986).
The "at risk" concept is so deeply embedded in the professional discourse of policy makers that to subject it to critique is not without risks of its own.
Statistical models provide the standard form of analysis and explanation for the purposes of policy making and state management and a kind of shorthand has emerged in which behaviour is typically explained by "risk factors". As an explanation of a social practice, to say that those who adopt it do so because they are the kind of people who probably will do so, does not explain why recognisable forms of social practice have emerged, or why particular individuals (rather than others with similar "risk" characteristics) should adopt them, or why their proportion might be 10% or 20% rather than some other figure.
The realist framework developed here has been influenced by Archer (1995), Bhaskar (1993), Bunge (1998) and, despite the different ontological foundations of his work, Bourdieu (1993, 1998, 2000).
In a word, social structures generate socialised dispositions, socialised dispositions generate collective practices, and practices are adopted by individuals.In 1997 the age-specific pregnancy rate for women 15-19 years of age was 33/1,000 for non-Maori and 94/1,000 for Maori (Dickson et al. Among developed countries, only the United States records a higher statistic.The specific incidence of teenage pregnancy is not necessarily influenced by changes in the sexual activity of young people, but there is an obvious relationship between sexual activity and pregnancy, and there is much to be said for an integrated approach in this field.The first point to note is that only 12 variables, of the thousands available in this extensive longitudinal data set, were of any significance in discriminating between the two groups.Of these, two were structural variables (socio-economic status, mother under 20 at first birth); five were individual or dispositional (IQ, self-esteem, reading score, not attached to school, and plan to leave early); and two were practice variables (no home interests at age 13, no religious activity).This paper argues the case for New Zealand research into teenage pregnancy - and the sexual activity of young people in general - in its full social and cultural context.Three conceptual barriers to this project are identified and discussed: (i) "at risk" positivism; (ii) "true effect" reductionism; and (iii) the concept of culture.It is suggested that a realist structure-disposition-practice model with a "numbers and narratives" methodology may be able to overcome these barriers, and thus widen the focus of an area of research currently dominated by a medical paradigm.New Zealand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the OECD.New Zealand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world.In the UK, where the rate is lower than New Zealand's but twice the European average, a Cabinet-led programme has been launched to bring the problem under control.