The typical starting point for action to promote social mobility is helping children achieve their potential through early interventions such as home visiting programs and preschool. Imagine if we began instead by asking: what can we do to ensure that every child is a planned, wanted, and welcomed child?
More than 50% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and by age 45, more than half of all American women will have experienced an unplanned pregnancy. Although we know that education is a key contributor to mobility, unplanned pregnancy is one of the most cited reasons for women (and men) dropping off the educational escalator. But unlike so many other social policy issues where making progress will require massive system changes that are overwhelming in scope, helping many more women prevent unplanned pregnancy is an achievable, measurable, and scalable goal within a relatively short time. Unplanned pregnancy is nearly 100% preventable, and the positive impact on mobility from helping women fulfill their own goals about family planning and childbearing would be extraordinary.
Many women who have unplanned pregnancies are using a good method of contraception—the pill—but they aren’t using it carefully enough. They are contracepting because they know this isn’t the moment to conceive, but the method they’ve chosen doesn’t work very well for them. The “typical use” failure rate of the pill is 9%. Increasing the effectiveness of their contraception would help these women achieve what they desire.
But there are new, safe, reliable methods of contraception—the new IUDs and implants—that have a failure rate of less than 0.1%, and are inexpensive over the long run. These methods last from 3–10 years, and are completely reversible: when removed, a woman’s fertility returns unimpaired. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the governing body in the field, says that IUDs and implants “are the best reversible methods for preventing unintended pregnancy;” and these methods should be made available to all women, whether or not they’ve had children. Most of Western Europe, the Scandinavian countries in particular, uses these methods more than we do here, and predictably their rates of unplanned pregnancy are a fraction of ours. (These same countries, by the way, have more social mobility than we do).
Control = Opportunity
When women are able to plan their pregnancies, they increase their chances of finishing their schooling, forming more mature and committed partnerships, continuing their employment trajectories for as long as they want to, getting appropriate prenatal care, and increasing the likelihood that their children are given the very best chances of success. In other words, they can do all the things we know are critical to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and increasing social mobility. As the father of three girls, this is what I want for my own children—to help them realize their own dreams, on their own terms. Let’s start the conversation here: it would be a win for women, for their children, and for our nation.