Income Levels Influence Success In Avoiding Pregnancy, Report Says

Feb 26, 2015

Credit The Brookings Institute

A report released today found that women who are the poorest are five times more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy as opposed to wealthy women.

The Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute prepared a report that compared sexual activity, contraception use and abortion rates among women representing different economic levels. Women who were the poorest had the greatest number of unintended pregnancies, while abortion rates were highest for the most affluent, according to researchers.

(Earning below 100 percent of the federal poverty level equates an income of up to $11,770 for a single person and $15,930 for two.)

Sexual activity rates did not appear to be influenced by economic status.

“Since unintended childbearing is associated with higher rates of poverty, less family stability, and worse outcomes for children, these gaps further entrench inequality,’’ the authors of the report wrote.

“But to close the gaps, we must first understand them. In most cases, a couple must take three steps to have a child. First, have sex. Second, fail to use contraception, or use contraception unsuccessfully. Third, decide to proceed with the pregnancy rather than have an abortion.”

The researchers looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth between 2011 and 2013. The sample covered thousands of single women between the ages of 15 and 44 who were trying to avoid pregnancy.

“The large income gaps in the use of contraception are a key contributor to the gap in unintended birth rates,’’ the report states. “Our view is that income gaps in accessibility and knowledge are the key factors here. Some of the most effective forms of birth control, such as IUDs and implants, are cheaper in the long-run but have high upfront costs, making them less attractive to low-income women.” They note that the Affordable Care Act has made contraception easier for low-income women to obtain, but access to information and “quality medical advice about contraception are still significant problems.’’

Meanwhile, Medicaid, the federal/state program that pays for health care for the poor, is prohibited from covering abortion, and many states, the authors say, ban private insurers from covering abortion. And the limited number of providers may create travel costs for low-income women.

The report notes that 400,000 women in the Midwest live more than 150 miles away from the nearest abortion provider.

The authors concluded that it is “a tough choice, access to abortion should not be determined by income.”