Large And Widening Income Gaps In Unintended Childbearing

The Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families recently released a report examining the wide class gaps in unintended childbearing among single women in the US. According to the report, "[a] poor woman is more than five times as likely as an affluent woman to have an unintended birth. Since unintended childbearing is associated with higher rates of poverty, less family stability, and worse outcomes for children, these gaps further entrench inequality. Closing gaps in unintended childbearing is therefore important for greater equality and opportunity."

In order to understand the differences in unintended births, the researchers used data from the National Survey of Family Growth.  Their sample consisted of 3,885 single women between the ages of 15 and 44 who said they were not trying to get pregnant.  The sample was divided into five economic groups based on their proximity to the federal poverty line.

The team found that there is no "sex gap" by income.  In other words, respondents reported similar levels of sexual activity in every income bracket (if anything, women in the highest income bracket reported the highest rates of sexual activity--71 percent said they'd had sex in the past year, compared to two thirds of women in other income brackets).  However there were significant differences in contraception use between the least and most affluent women in the sample: "Among the wealthiest women, only 11 percent of those who had sex reported not using contraception, for those in the poorest group the rate was more than twice as high. Naturally, that led to a higher rate of pregnancy for lower-income women: 9 percent versus only 2.9 percent for those who had the highest incomes."

But the most surprising finding of the study was that when faced with an unplanned pregnancy the most affluent women were more than three times as likely to have an abortion than women in the poorest bracket: 32 percent reported ending unintended pregnancies through abortion, compared to 8.9 percent of low-income women.  The researchers note that this finding could be explained partially by the fact that access to abortion is limited for poor women: the ACA mandates that contraception be included in all insurance plans, but federal policy specifically prohibits Medicaid from covering abortions and many states impose similar restrictions on private insurers.  Women therefore incur out-of-pocket costs for the procedure.  Furthermore, increased state regulations have resulted in a decrease in the number of abortion providers.  This means that women seeking an abortion have to travel farther away to get it.  This increases the costs of abortion and requires "taking more time off work—which can be especially costly for low-income women, since they are the least likely to get paid or unpaid medical leave. State-imposed waiting periods mean multiple appointments before a procedure, multiplying these costs."

This study suggests that:
"though increased availability, and use, of contraception is seemingly the most important factor in bridging the gap between the richest and poorest women, increasing the accessibility to safe, affordable abortions might be part of a comprehensive, effective solution, too."

Read more:
National Survey of Family Growth (
Frederique Laubepin

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