In the United States, births and pregnancy rates have been declining for a long time. One reason is revealed by a new data analysis: Women are less likely to become pregnant when they do not want to.
Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute released an analysis Thursday in the journal Demography that estimates the number and feelings of women about their pregnancy timing. There is no official count. Most demography surveys asked whether pregnancies are intended or not. However, this approach misses nuances such as whether women were ambivalent or wanted to become pregnant sooner or later.
A new analysis covering the years 2009-2015 found that an increasing majority of women believed their pregnancy came at the perfect time. The study found a decrease in the number of women who had unwanted pregnancies or those that occurred too early. This shift was driven by younger women.
The study also revealed that an increasing number of women, especially those over 35 years old, said they became pregnant later than desired.
This study confirms the idea that people had more control over reproduction in older ages.
She said that it also reflects a change in the people's ideas about when they should have children and their norms regarding when is the best time to do so -- when we are settled, or when I am well established in my career.
The new data are one of the most clear indicators that the decline in fertility during Great Recession wasn't just a temporary delay as it often happens in recessions. It seems that the drop in fertility during the Great Recession was not just a temporary delay, as it is often the case when recessions occur.
The analysis combined reports from the National Center for Health Statistics, abortion data from Guttmacher and estimates of total pregnancy and miscarriage.
Data is from two major events which affected fertility. The first was the Pandemic followed by Dobbs, the decision which ended the right to abortion in the United States. The long-term effects of these events are not yet known. Early evidence suggests that many women delayed pregnancy at the start of the pandemic. It is possible that states with new abortion laws could see an increase in unwanted or mistimed pregnancies.
Unintended pregnancies in the United States have been among the highest in the industrialized countries for many years. In the last 30 years, it has decreased by 23 percent. Now 46 percent of all pregnancies in America are unintended. Comparatively, in Western Europe, the rate of unintended pregnancies is 36 percent, and has not changed significantly.
According to the new analysis, American women gained greater autonomy in their family planning during the study period, and as a result, had fewer abortions.
The authors of the Guttmacher paper, Kathryn Kost and Mia Zolna, wrote that the data showed that "far fewer people became pregnant in 2015 than they did in 2009. And that abortion rates went down not because women got pregnant but because their pregnancies ended in a baby instead of an aborted child."
Just under a quarter (24%) of women in 2015 said that their pregnancy was too early, which is a decrease of 18% from 2009. The percentage of women who were pregnant and said that they didn't want to have a child decreased by 5 percent. This brings the total number of women with no children down to 17 percent. The declines are largely due to younger women having fewer unwanted pregnancy.
Birth control became easier to access during this time, in part because the Affordable Care Act required that it be provided free of charge for patients. A recent study has revealed a significant increase in women who use long-acting reversible birth control like IUDs. In Colorado, a program to provide long-acting contraceptives for free led to a 40% decline in the number of births among teenagers and young adult women.
Data also shows that younger people have less sex. This could be because they socialize online more, and engage in fewer risky activities overall.
Researchers said that the fertility rate is increasing among older childbearing woman, aged 35-44. In one sense, this shows women have more control over when they get pregnant. Women with high levels of education have delayed pregnancy until they finish their education and begin their careers. More recently, this has been true for women from all educational backgrounds.
The analysis reveals a new finding: that many women aged over 35 are having their babies later than they would like. The percentage of women who stated that their pregnancies came later than they wanted increased by 84 percent. However, the percentage who claimed it happened at the right time decreased by 26 percent. The new data excludes women who have never been pregnant.
Researchers suggest that this could be due to the fact that they have fertility problems at an older age. They also note a "substantial and growing unmet need" for fertility treatment.
Researchers said that it could also be a sign of financial insecurity for some. They may have delayed getting pregnant until they had a stable financial situation, but wish they would have done so sooner. In retrospect, it could indicate that they regret having waited. It could also indicate that women are finding it harder to find suitable partners.
Kost is a Ph.D. Sociologist and director of domestic research for Guttmacher. We are wondering if this is a reflection of the economic realities and constraints people are facing, as well as the increasing burdens they feel in having families on their timeline.