4

I am writing a story set in the late 1970s in England. One of my characters, a 17 year old girl, gets pregnant, and the father of the baby disappears for various reasons. I want my story to be as realistic and historically accurate as possible, so I would like to know what kind of situations would my character believably have to face.
I have done some research on the subject, and I found that in the late 60s "although society is less punitive towards the mother than [...] fifty years ago, there is still considerable residual hostility to single mothers", as this article put it. It is my understanding that in the 70s, opinions and attitudes varied wildly among social groups. However I have not been able to find a real answer to my questions: what was the social condition, overall, of a pregnant single woman (let's say even an older teen) in the late 70s in England? Was she able to get a job while pregnant or after the pregnancy? Could she finish her education? Would she reasonably be able to talk about her problems and go to friends or family for help, or was it more likely for her to try and face her problems alone out of shame, as some women did ten or twenty years earlier? Was an illigitimate pregnancy still considered a huge scandal by some, especially in the middle class? Did hostels for unmarried mothers still exist?

(P.S.: sorry for any mistake, English is not my first language).

4
  • 2
    There's a Film titled The plight of Teenage Mothers made in the 1970s, from the Huntley Film Archive which may help. Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 9:43
  • There's a 70s film about single mothers called Poor Cow. Haven't seen it, but that definitely gives you an idea
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 13:23
  • @NeMo Poor Cow, is no fitting representation whatever for the spectrum of single mothers that might have existed. The main character - Joy has a mother who is an alcoholic and a womanising father. She gets into one abusive relationship after another - all of them with violent criminals. Women like her there certainly were but she will have been no representation whatever of single mothers in general.
    – WS2
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 6:25
  • 1
    You ask what was the social condition, overall, of a pregnant single woman...in the late 70s in England. This is something that will undoubtedly vary enormously across a wide spectrum according to age, education, social class, region, level of parental support, paternity of the child, and a multitude of other factors. Selecting only one example or category is likely to produce a very distorted result.
    – WS2
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 8:43

2 Answers 2

7

Your situation describes not only a single mother, but a very young single mother. So we should first note that teenage pregnancy was much more common in 1970, and even though the abortion act of '67 had reduced the number of mothers who carried the baby to term, the number of teenage mothers was over 3 times higher than it is now. (source 1) [This is sometimes attributed to mobile phones - teenage girls now would rather stay in and chat on their mobile. This is at best only partly true.]

She would have been aware of the possibility of abortion, whether she would consider this would depend on her upbringing and beliefs.

A mother of 17 would likely have already finished her education. It would have been normal for most people to finish school by the age of 16. Unless she was an exceptional student she would be more likely to be in some form of training or apprenticeship. It would have been normal for her to be required to leave. Many women, even respectable and married women, were sacked (or required to resign) when they became pregnant (source 2)

Whether she could talk to her family would depend on her relationship with her family I don't think there is single answer that could apply here.

Mother and Baby homes certainly still existed and would continue to do so well after the 1970s. Adoption reach a peak in '68 and was now dropping (partly due to the abortion act). She would have been under pressure to put the baby up for adoption. Alternatively she could choose to have the baby raised as her sibling, or perhaps adopted by an older sister to raise as the girl's niece. (source 3)

Shame and stigma would still exist, but less than in the 1950s. Of course young mothers still face shame today (see recent questions on the IPS stack exchange). However, there is more support for teenage mothers now, and as noted, far fewer teens are now getting pregnant.

source 1

source 2

source 3

1
  • 1
    "young mothers still face shame today". Where my mother lives (rural Louisiana) they're almost celebrated.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 17:58
4

My mum was 16 when I was born in 1976. I only know what she has told me (she has sadly now passed away). She returned to complete her education 10 years later, but at the time there was no provision whatsoever for her to complete it.

Friends avoided her at all costs (walking across the street to get away from her), she had very little say in what happened to her in hospital (being refused pain medication at one point and being told she was a 'silly little girl' and she should just put up with pain and 'this is what happens when you are naughty').

She did marry my Dad and they did stay together but I think her treatment at the time made her very unsure of her own power in situations she found herself in and she rarely stood up for herself with anyone. She was a lovely, bright, intelligent woman. What she went through would have crushed a lesser person, but she came back fighting for my brother and I and we have very fond memories of her as a mother.

I can totally see how a single mother might be coerced into giving a baby up. It was only as she was married this did not happen to her.

As a footnote, I also remember an experience in the early 1990s with a school friend who was forced to have an abortion against her will. It seems that attitudes take a very long time to evolve.

Hope this helps.

1
  • Very informative answer. However, for completeness and context it would be nice to know at least which country that happened in, since the experience might vary a lot depending on country, region, social background and so.
    – Pere
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 17:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.