Recession cuts: Babies and birth control

A report on the economy's impact on family planning should remind us that healthcare is a feminist issue

Published September 23, 2009 12:01PM (EDT)

We've read the trend pieces about couples postponing procreation because of that mighty inconvenience known as the global financial collapse. Now, dependable data has arrived: The Guttmacher Institute just published a report detailing the impact of the recession on family planning (PDF) and, sure enough, economic instability does not inspire baby lust.

This summer, researchers surveyed 947 women between the ages of 18 and 34 with household incomes of less than $75,000. They found that women are preoccupied by worry about money, medical costs and childcare. Most of the women hope to get pregnant later on or have decided against having kids because of these tough times -- and that's even more common among women who are less well-off than they were a year ago. A total of 64 percent agreed with the statement, "With the economy the way it is, I can’t afford to have a baby right now."

These findings are all rather intuitive, but what this actually means for pregnancy prevention is less straightforward. A total of 29 percent say they are "more careful" than before about using contraception every time they have sex. There is a flip-side to that, though: Eight percent of women are using birth control less regularly as a means of saving money and, among women in financial decline, that number rises to 12 percent. Things are even sketchier among women on the pill: 18% are popping hormones irregularly to save some cash -- either by missing pills, filling their prescription late, taking at least one month off or picking up fewer packs at a time. That number balloons to 25 percent when it comes to the category of worse-off women.

Overall, 23 percent are having a tougher time than a year ago covering the cost of birth control and -- again, say it with me now -- that number is higher among women whose finances have dwindled. The upshot: Those who are least capable of affording the cost of a child are putting themselves at the greatest risk for an unplanned pregnancy. Women also report avoiding appointments with their gynecologists in the last year -- especially those who have recently lost their health insurance.

Oh, right, health insurance. You might recall that Michelle Obama last week declared healthcare reform a women's issue. Gosh, think she has a point?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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