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Reducing Unplanned Pregnancy

In yesterday’s post, we showed the massive gains for women after the Pill became available. Despite this progress, we have very high unintended pregnancy rates that continue to rise. Between 1994 and 2006, rates of unintended pregnancy jumped by 16 percent from 45 to 52 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women. Today, a little over half of all pregnancies and 38 percent of all births in the United States are unintended.

Why worry about unintended pregnancy?

Unintended Pregnancy Highest Among Less-Educated and Unmarried Women

Unmarried women account for 70 percent of all unintended pregnancies and 72 percent of all unwanted births, while unintended birth rates are nearly four times higher for high school drop outs than for college graduates:

bar chart of unintended birth rates by educational attainment

What if fewer pregnancies were unintended?

We investigated the potential impact of reducing unintended pregnancy for less educated women to the same rates as college graduates.  Helping these women have the same level of family planning control would reduce the overall share of births occurring to unmarried women from 36 percent to 27 percent.

bar chart of percent of nonmarital births among women aged 20-44, by educational attainment

These reductions are big, but not unattainable. In the short run, reducing unintended pregnancy will require significant changes in contraceptive behavior. For instance, the Choice Project – a program that provided no-cost contraception to nearly 10,000 women in the St. Louis region (many of whom were unmarried and from low socio-economic backgrounds) – shows that getting women onto highly effective, low-maintenance  forms of contraception (e.g., IUDs or implants) can massively reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy. In the longer term, however, radical reductions in unintended childbearing will require improving the educational attainment and economic prospects of the most disadvantaged.

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