Report: Contraception is good for the economy, everything else

A comprehensive review finds that a woman's ability to control her own fertility is good for women -- and society

Published March 21, 2013 8:39PM (EDT)

Women with reliable access to contraception tend to delay and space out when they have babies. And according to a new Guttmacher Institute review of more than 66 studies conducted over three decades, a woman's ability to control her fertility affects much more than just if and when she'll start a family; contraception plays a big a role in the financial, professional and emotional lives of American women, too.

In fact, access to contraception was found to be related to all sorts of positive outcomes in family, mental health, children's well-being and general life satisfaction.

According to Adam Sonfield, lead author of the review:

The scientific evidence strongly confirms what has long been obvious to women. Contraceptive use, and the ensuing ability to decide whether and when to have children, is linked to a host of benefits for themselves, the quality of their relationships, and the well-being of their children.

But, he went on to say, access to birth control remains uneven and unequal in the United States, which means that women who are economically disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized don't share in these benefits. Recommendations from Sonfield and the literature call for policies that ground "unintended pregnancy prevention efforts... in broader antipoverty and social justice efforts."

Read the research for a more in-depth analysis, but here's the short version: Women controlling their own fertility is a really, really good thing for the world.

Major takeaways from the review, according to the Institute:

  • Educational attainment: Legal access to contraception contributed significantly to more young women obtaining at least some college education and to more college-educated women pursuing advanced professional degrees.
  • Workforce participation: Historically, the pill was a driving force behind significantly more young women participating in the labor force, including jobs requiring advanced education and training.
  • Economic stability: Access to contraception significantly contributed to increasing women's earning power and to decreasing the gender pay gap.
  • Union formation and stability: Contraception helped spark a trend toward later marriage, helping women and men to find stable, economically attractive matches; relationships are more likely to dissolve after an unplanned pregnancy or birth than after a planned one.
  • Mental health and happiness: Women and men who experience unintended pregnancy and unplanned childbirth are more likely than those who do not to experience depression, anxiety and lower reported levels of happiness.
  • Well-being of children: Individuals are particularly likely to start off unprepared to be parents and to develop a poor relationship with their children if the birth of a child is unplanned.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Birth Control Contraception Reproductive Health Reproductive Rights