Unintended Pregnancy in the United States

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Citation: Henshaw, Stanley K. (1998) Unintended Pregnancy in the United States. Family Planning Perspectives (Volume 30) (RSS)

Tagged: uw-madison (RSS), wisconsin (RSS), sociology (RSS), demography (RSS), prelim (RSS), qual (RSS), WisconsinDemographyPrelimAugust2009 (RSS)


Using data from the 1982, 1988, and 1995 cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth supplemented by data from other sources (i.e. NCHS, Alan Guttmacher Institute), the authors estimate 1994 rates and percentages of unintended birth and pregnancy and the proportion of women who have experienced and unintended birth, an abortion, or both. Estimates are made of the proportion of women who will have an abortion by age 45. In the NSFG, births are categorized as unplanned if the woman had been practicing contraception when she became pregnant, if she had not wanted to become pregnant until a later time, or if she had wanted no more children ever. Because of the problems with abortion data in the United States, the methods used to calculate the abortion data rely on a number of sources and are somewhat more complex. Excluding miscarriages, 49% of the pregnancies concluding in 1994 were unintended; 54% of these ended in abortion. Forty-eight percent of women who had an unplanned birth had been using contraception during the month they became pregnant, as had 58% of those who had an abortion. Teenagers have the highest proportion of unintended pregnancies. Teenagers were the least likely to end their births by abortion (44%), while women over the age of 40 were the most likely (65%). Only 37% of married women ended their pregnancy with abortion, while 60-65% of unmarried women did. Forty-eight percent of women aged 15-44 in 1994 had had at least one unplanned pregnancy sometime in their lives; 28% had had one or more unplanned births, 30% had had one or more abortions, and 11% had had both. At 1994 rates, women can expect to have 1.42 unintended pregnancies by the time that they are 45, and at 1992 rates, 43% of women will have had an abortion. Between 1987 and 1994, the unintended pregnancy rate decline by 16%, from 54 to 45 per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The overall pregnancy rate declines with increasing income, mainly due to the higher rate of unintended pregnancy among low-income women. The differences between white and black women generally parallel the differences between high- and low-income women. The unintended pregnancy rate for black women was nearly three times that of white women. Hispanic women had a much higher rate of both unintended and intended pregnancy than did non-Hispanic women, but the proportions unintended and distribution of outcomes were similar for Hispanics and non-Hispanics. The unintended pregnancy rate was highest among women who were aged 18-24, unmarried, low-income, and black or Hispanic. The proportion of unintended pregnancies that ended with abortion increased from 50% to 54% between 1987 and 1994. The proportion of unplanned pregnancies that ended with abortion increased among women aged 20 and older, but decreased among teenagers, who are now more likely than older women to continue their unplanned pregnancies. The unintended pregnancy rate declined between 1987 and 1994. Among married women, the proportion of unintended pregnancies that ended in abortion increased from 28% to 37%.