Young women have always faced complex and multiple transitions in adolescence. But social change has not only increasingly opened up opportunities for young women that simply did not exist a few decades ago; it has also resulted in British girls facing greater pressures to conform to certain adult behaviours, attitudes and norms – and at a younger age – than ever before.
While many girls continue to negotiate these complex transitions very successfully, there is a minority of young women for whom the story is not so positive. In particular, there have been concerns relating to the ‘adultification’ of young women – with an increasing prevalence of younger girls engaging in adult activities such as drinking, substance abuse, sex and dieting. These trends have been reflected in young women’s outcomes across a range of indicators – including teen pregnancy rates, drinking, substance abuse and mental health outcomes. For example – despite being the focus of a high-profile government target to halve the under-18 conception rate in the last few years – teen conception rates have not fallen substantially: there were still 47,000 under-18 conceptions in 2006 (National Statistics and Teenage Pregnancy Unit 2008).
It is often a very different set of factors that underpin problem behaviours and poor outcomes for girls than for boys. Yet policy has sometimes failed to differentiate enough between girls and boys – if anything, there has tended to be a greater focus on boys and young men because their behaviours tend to be more visible and are therefore perceived to be more prevalent. Girls meanwhile have long ‘favoured’ insular and self-directed behaviours such as self-harm, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and eating disorders.
This project will map how social change over the last few decades has changed the contexts within which young women grow up and are socialised, based on new data analysis of large-scale longitudinal studies.
We are currently seeking funding for this project. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.