Teen breeders a national scourge! Time for Mythbusters

So there are all these teen mum banging out babies, right? And it's costing all us taxpayers heaps. It's a modern scandal Something must be done. Now! Well, maybe not...

As unreliable as self-selecting TV and website polls are, it's fair to assume that most voters are applauding National's decision to offer free contraception to women on the benefit and their teenage daughters. The strong puritanical streak in our national psyche takes a firm line with people who have children when they can't afford to provide for them.

It has been a good way for a beleaguered government to win brownie points after a series of scandals and ahead of what is likely to be a grim Budget season.

And to be honest, I don't think the scheme's quite the devil's spawn some make it out to be. Sure, the hypocrisy evident in the willingness of parties based on the principles of individual freedoms to interfere in the lives of some citizens purely because they don't work for a living is worth noting. And I think the strongest argument against it is that it's being delivered by the department that pays people's benefits and helps them find jobs, not the one which cares for people's health.

What message does that send? That this is a financial concern, something restricting a person's duty to work? I'm surprised from a purely political point of view that this hasn't been administered through Vote Health.

But let's also acknowledge the value of making it as easy as possible for women to avoid unwanted pregnancies, for the sake of the resulting unwanted children as much as what it means for the women. And targeting teens makes sense.

What's more, Pharmac already funds long-term contraception and the tiny $1 million price tag on this policy is telling - very few people will be touched by this "initiative". For all the hoop-la and headlines, it'll be interesting to see how much of that $1 million is spent in the first year.

On that point, the main purpose of this post is to offer a chart. I'll paste it in below.

I've just spotted the Herald's editorial this morning and my chart reinforces it's perceptive commentary on the policy:

The National Party has a tendency to exaggerate the problem of beneficiaries having babies, particularly in their teens. Mothers under 19 give birth to about 7 per cent of babies born in New Zealand each year. The rate has been fairly stable regardless of contraceptive campaigns. The true scale of the problem can be seen in the amount the Government has budgeted for its latest programme: a mere $1 million in a package of $287 million to give unemployed teenagers further education and training. The number of 16- to 18-year-old parents on a benefit is just 1165. The number of 16- to 17-year-olds on all benefits is not much greater: 1400.

Those numbers make much of my point for me. But I've got something else.

Many New Zealanders see teen DPB mums as a modern scourge, a crippling problem for this country. That's in large part because certain politicians have been willing to use them to score points over the years.

The reality is substantially different from the myth. See this:

Characteristics of working-age Domestic Purposes Benefit recipients (aged 18–64 years), at the end of March 2007 and at the end of March 2012

Percentage of recipients who were:












Pacific people



18–19 years



20–24 years



25–39 years



40–54 years



55–64 years



Declaring earnings



Caring for a dependent child aged 6 years or under*



Caring for a dependent child aged 7–13 years*



Caring for a dependent child aged 14 years or over*



Caring for two or more dependent children*






Number of working-age Domestic Purposes Benefit

recipients (aged 18–64 years)




The figures in bold highlight a fascinating wee factoid that's my current favourite. There are more than twice as many women aged over 55 on the DPB than there are teens on the DPB.

Indeed, just 2.7 percent of the DPB population are teens. Hardly a generation breeding for business, is it?