When Women Have More Control Over Bearing Children, Their Lives Are Obviously Way BetterS

A brand new and obsessively thorough review of scientific literature has revealed — and you'll probably want to brace yourselves — that having procreational autonomy is "crucial" to a woman's social and economic advancement. Not only that, but, since women pretty much account for half of all the people, when women can improve their economic status, everyone benefits, even politicians who believe that birth control pills are really Skittles from Satan's trouser pockets, and condoms are just the props for Azazel to show off his balloon-animal skills (he's only ever managed a lopsided dog).

The gist of the Guttmacher review is this: when women are able to control the circumstances of bearing children, they vastly improve their ability to do things like complete their education or advance through the workforce. This means that women's ability to "obtain and effectively use contraceptives" has a positive impact on tangible outcomes like educational attainment and workforce participation, as well as subsequent outcomes like overall happiness and mental health.

Adam Sonfield, lead author of the literature review, summarizes the findings thusly:

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 the evidence also suggests that the most disadvantaged women in our society do not fully share in these benefits, which is why unintended pregnancy prevention efforts need to be grounded in broader antipoverty and social justice efforts.

In all, Guttmacher researchers reviewed 66 previous studies, all conducted within the past three decades. The outcomes of the review include...

  • 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.

The Guttmacher review also considered the factors behind the negative consequences often link to unplanned pregnancy. Spoiler alert: preexisting social and economic disadvantages can, some researchers theorize, lead to higher instances of unplanned pregnancy and teen motherhood. How to reduce unplanned pregnancy and the resulting social consequences? Sonfield insists that we need to make funding programs offering financial support, child care, and nutrition to teen mothers more of a national priority. Even before the great sequestration debacle, we didn't fund such programs adequately — lawmakers will need to do better.

[Guttmacher Institute], [Salon]

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