Accidental pregnancy: It's a tough nut

When it comes to making progress toward fewer unplanned pregnancies, looks like we need a good nutcracker.

Can the U.S. bring the proportion of unplanned pregnancies down to 44% by the year 2020? Maybe the goal sounds modest, but unplanned pregnancy is a tough nut to crack. Recent research from the Guttmacher Institute found that the rate of unplanned pregnancy in the U.S. actually went up slightly between 2001 and 2008, from 48% to 51% of pregnancies overall. Looks like the “Healthy People” people who set the goal have their work cut out for them. (Of course we’ll be trying to help too!)

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From 2001 to 2008, the rate of unplanned pregnancy grew most among these three groups of women:

  • unmarried women who lived with a partner (from 165 to 198 per 1,000 women)

  • women who earned less than $10,400 per year (from 120 to 137 per 1,000)

  • women who had not completed high school (from 73 to 101 per 1,000)

Over the same period, the rate of unplanned pregnancy among 18- to 19-year-old women went down from 103 to 88 per 1,000. But since births following an unplanned pregnancy went up in this group from 53% to 60%, the decrease in pregnancies washed out.

The Guttmacher study can’t say why any of these changes happened. It could be that following the recession that started in 2007, people felt like it wasn’t a good time to grow their families and that made them more likely to view their pregnancies as accidental rather than planned. It may also be that the only way to crack this nut is to deal with some of the underlying factors—like gaps in education and income—that studies show are also connected to unplanned pregnancy.

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