The Economics of Women’s Fertility

economics-fertilityWomen are going to have sex. Women are going to go about their lives—go to school, have a job, be with friends, have relationships, etc.—and they want to be able to have control over their lives. At least this is what 60 percent of women surveyed by the Guttmacher Institute said when they were asked why they were using contraception.
The majority of women in the study reported that access to birth control has helped them meet their educational, career, financial and family goals.
Earlier this year, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) told the crowd of an award ceremony hosted by the Manhattan Institute, “A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create.”

Bush and Ryan are not the only ones who believe marriage is the answer to ending poverty. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been a long champion of marriage promotion saying things like, “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.”

But the answer is not in some rings and a piece of paper from City Hall. The answer lies in a woman’s ability to make the right reproductive choices for herself at the time in her life when she needs it like when she is building her career or going to school.

As Jacoba Urist reported for The Atlantic this summer, access to contraception “plays a pivotal role in the financial, physical and emotional health of children, and data suggest that effective contraception and positive social outcomes are mutually reinforcing.”

Last year, the Guttmacher Institute produced a report about the social and economic benefits of women’s ability to determine whether and when to have children citing areas such as educational attainment, workforce participation, economic stability and mental health and wellbeing. They found that legal access to the pill, “contributed significantly to increases in the number of young women who obtained at least some college education” and “was a driving force behind the societal shift to significantly more young women participating in the paid labor force, including professional occupations requiring advanced education and training.”

While women with access to contraception are able to get advanced degrees or build their career opportunities, women with incomes below the federal poverty level are five times as likely to have unintended pregnancies than that of higher income women.

“Disparities in reproductive health access and outcomes have contributed to the continuing challenges faced by economically disadvantaged women in American society,” wrote Adam Sonfield in a Guttmacher Institute report.

So as politicians continue to fight for less reproductive health services like Planned Parenthood and the courts favor the interests of corporations such as Hobby Lobby to take away access for contraception for their employees, they are ultimately hurting themselves. By making it more difficult for women to plan when they would like to start a family, these decision makers are increasing the risk of poverty in our society.

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Melanie Breault

Melanie Breault is a freelance writer and graduate student in New York City. She is obtaining her master's degree in Urban Affairs from Hunter College focusing on women's economic development and living in Brooklyn with her Shepherd mix, Clarkson.