Of all those who had been pregnant, under half had given birth, while more than a third had an abortion. Image Credit: Rex Features

London: Almost one in five girls who are sexually active at the age of 18 say they have been pregnant at least once, according to a major government study published Friday.

The figures were even higher among those from the poorest families and those with the lowest educational achievements. Some 2 per cent of all girls who are eligible for free school meals reported getting pregnant at least once, with 7 per cent having done so twice or more.

And a third of those who left school with four or fewer GCSEs at grades D-G had been pregnant at least once by the time they were 18. The figure among those who scored eight or more GCSEs at grades A*-C was only 6 per cent.

The statistics part of wider research into the experiences of thousands of 18-year-olds in England published by the Department for Education found that of all those who had been pregnant, just under half (46 per cent) had given birth, while more than a third (36 per cent) had an abortion. The remaining 18 per cent had a miscarriage.

Some 83 per cent of girls were having sex by the age of 18. Of those, 18 per cent had been pregnant at least once. The proportion among all girls, including those who were not sexually active, was 15 per cent.

Researchers from the Youth Cohort Study and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, which questioned 14,800 young people, noted that the likelihood of pregnancy appeared to be linked with parents' jobs and levels of education, and that there was a ‘notable trend' between academic attainment and pregnancy.

Of those girls whose parents did not have A-levels, and those who parents worked in routine occupations, the level ran as high as 20 per cent.