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Unplanned pregnancies more frequent among poor women

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

Unplanned pregnancies are always a source of anxiety for women everywhere, as they throw unexpected curveballs into the financial and emotional stability of the surprised parents-to-be. Children require a substantial investment of their parents’ resources, which is why it is so troubling to read today’s headline from the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to sexual and reproductive health, which has found that unplanned pregnancies are increasingly concentrated among low-income women.

It might surprise readers to know that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned; what is far more troubling is that the bulk of those pregnancies are occurring among the poor. Researchers found that unintended pregnancy rate among women with incomes below the federal poverty line jumped by 50 percent between 1994 and 2006, the latest date available, from 88 to 132 per 1,000.

In contrast, the unplanned pregnancy rate among women with incomes at least 200 percent above the poverty line fell 29 percent from 34 to 24 per 1,000, the researchers found, using data from the federal National Survey of Family Growth.

"These data suggest that women who lead stable lives -- women who are older, more affluent and better-educated -- tend to have better reproductive health outcomes, while women whose lives are less stable, such as younger, poorer or less educated women, have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, unwanted births and abortions," study co-author Lawrence B. Finer said in a Guttmacher news release.

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In 2006, 49 percent of the 6.7 million pregnancies in the United States were unintended, and 43 percent of those unintended pregnancies ended in abortion. The increase in unintended pregnancies among poor women is associated with rising rates of abortions (52 per 1,000) and unplanned births (66 per 1,000) among those women, the study found.

Along with poor women, higher rates of unintended pregnancies also occur among women ages 18 to 24, minority women, and women who cohabit with a partner in an unmarried relationship, the Guttmacher report found. Lower rates occurred among higher-income women, white women, college graduates and married women. For example, the rate among higher-income white women is 17 per 1,000, one-third the national average of 52 per 1,000.

The new data "also show that marriage is not, in and of itself, a solution to the problems women have in controlling their fertility: In fact, poor women who are married have unintended pregnancy rates more than twice as high as those of higher-income women who are unmarried or cohabiting," the study authors said. In short, contrary to the rallying voices from the Family Values camp, it is not marriage, but economic stability which culminates in decisions which might be deemed “moral” and which, in fact, are the outcome of a better access to knowledge and health care.

The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Contraception.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons