Reasons Why A Third of Babies in U.S. Are Unintended: Cohabitation and Contraception

people don't want kids
Many studies indicate that unintended pregnancies can result in women delaying or not accessing prenatal care. Microsoft

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report yesterday about births in the United States. They found that 37 percent of births are unplanned, a statistic that has remained steady since that information began to be tracked in 1982.

In order to produce that number, the CDC interviewed over 12,000 women who had been pregnant within five years of the survey date. They also interviewed the children's fathers.

The CDC accounts for this statistic with the rise of cohabitation. More couples are living together without choosing to get married and tend to be less likely to plan consequent pregnancies. Indeed, 14 percent of unintended births came about from cohabitating couples.

The CDC also differentiates for age. For women aged 20 to 24 at the time of their child's birth, 50 percent of pregnancies were intended – but consequently, 50 percent were also unintended. Teenagers' pregnancies were overwhelmingly unintended (77 percent), but that still means that 23 percent of teenagers' pregnancies were intended. The CDC does not differentiate for their ages beyond 16 to 19, but one does wonder whether the majority of those intended teenage pregnancies were ill-conceived or born to 18- and 19-year-olds who may be out of school and have steady employment.

The report differentiates among the different types of pregnancies. First, there are intended pregnancies. There were also moderately mistimed pregnancies, which meant that the woman did not plan on having children for two years or less. Seriously mistimed pregnancies indicate that the woman did not plan on having children for two years or more. Unwanted pregnancies signify that the woman did not want to become pregnant, whether that meant at all, or whether she did not want the amount of children that pregnancy meant she would have.

Interestingly, though the proportion of unintended pregnancies has remained steady, the various proportions of the types of pregnancies have varied slightly. In this most recent study, 63 percent of births were intended, 23 percent were mistimed, and 14 percent were unwanted. In 1982, 64 percent were intended, 27 percent were mistimed, and 10 percent were unwanted.

It does cause a person to wonder about the proportional increases in unwanted pregnancies, especially since there are increasing varieties of longer-lasting birth control methods. Since the survey began in 1982, shots, vaginal rings, and the birth control patch have come on the market, to varying effects. But the proportion of women relying on female sterilization and the pill has remained steady since 1995, with 27 percent and 28 percent in 1996. Diaphragm use has all but disappeared, and IUD use has decreased from 7 percent in 1982 to 5.5 percent in 2006, though that is a bump from its low of 1 percent in 1995.

The CDC has no explanation for the discrepancy. Regardless, many studies indicate that unintended pregnancies can result in women delaying or not accessing prenatal care, and continuing to smoke throughout their pregnancies at higher rates than women who intended to get pregnant. On this, the CDC report says, "Receiving late or no prenatal care has been associated with adverse child outcomes, including low birthweight, neonatal mortality, and increased health care costs for the infant, at birth and later. […]Numerous studies (10,45–48) show that smoking during pregnancy puts the mother and baby at risk for many health problems, including low birthweight, preterm birth, miscarriage, infant death, and illness during childhood."

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