The Long-Term Effects of Birth Control

(Photo: Nate Grigg)

(Photo: Nate Grigg)

A new working paper (PDF; abstract) by Martha J. Bailey, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, analyzes the effects of increased access to birth control in the 1960s and 1970s:

This paper assembles new evidence on some of the longer-term consequences of U.S. family planning policies, defined in this paper as those increasing legal or financial access to modern contraceptives. The analysis leverages two large policy changes that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s: first, the interaction of the birth control pill’s introduction with Comstock-era restrictions on the sale of contraceptives and the repeal of these laws after Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965; and second, the expansion of federal funding for local family planning programs from 1964 to 1973. Building on previous research that demonstrates both policies’ effects on fertility rates, I find suggestive evidence that individuals’ access to contraceptives increased their children’s college completion, labor force participation, wages, and family incomes decades later.

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  1. Janet296 says:

    It isn’t any surprise at all that the less children you have the more money you have for your household. Having 10 kids (or however many) isn’t a blessing. It could be a burden. A smaller family allows you to focus on the family to save for important things like college, mortgage, or retirement. Now if only certain members of congress could see that as well.

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    • James says:

      It’s not even entirely a matter of fewer children. Consider the difference between a couple who have X children starting in high school, verses another couple who have the same number, but starting a decade later after they have been through college and/or gotten a good start in work.

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      • No One says:

        Women being able to control their breeding also leads to not being trapped in an abusive relationship… Unless the abuser sabotages their contraception, which is actually a BIG problem all across the world right now. It’s why Rwanda has the largest usage of the 3 month Depo-Shot in the world, because when they try to take the pill, use the patch, etc. their partners will oftentimes beat them for doing so or destroy the pills to force a pregnancy upon them.

        Being able to put off childbearing if you’re an addict or mentally ill allows the mother to get treatment for her “Issues” and not end up destroying the brain development and physical health of her child, because an addict or untreated mentally ill woman begins abusing her child LITERALLY at conception…

        Not getting pregnant in the first place makes the whole species healthier because we’er learning that every single thing from the mother’s mood and stress levels during pregnancy to what she eats, what she’s exposed to chemically, etc. alters the disease potential of her fetus.

        NOTHING makes for a healthier species than being able to delay breeding until the parents are mentally, physically, and financially capable of providing a healthy and stable family system for the child and the skyrocketing rates of mental health issues in the US, including Bipolar Disorder, Addiction, PTSD, and Personality Disorders is all being tracked back to instability in the culture and family systems along with a dramatic increase in the idea that as long as you’re not giving meth to your kid or smoking it in front of the child, you’re not doing any harm to it…

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    • Alexandre Testu says:

      You’re assuming the goal of everyone is to amass the biggest amount of money they can, but not everyone lives like that. For some people, 10 kids IS a blessing, and they’d rather be poor and have these children than be rich and have just one or two or none. It’s dangerous to assume everyone thinks like you do. For some people, quality of life is measured in happiness, not in net worth.

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      • James says:

        No, I’m assuming that people who have kids should want to give them a decent start in life, rather than just wanting to stroke their own egos. That decent start should at least include adequate & nutritious food, basic medical care (includig vaccinations), education, and the exposure to a natural environment that is necessary to raise healthy kids. Now just by the nature of things, that takes a pile of money. If the parents can’t or won’t amass it themselves (or establish the earning capacity to “pay-as-they-grow”), either they do not get these things, or the rest of us are stuck picking up the tab.

        I wonder why it is that we consider someone who has 10 or so dogs or cats which they can’t adequately care for to be a “hoarder” who’s suffering a mental disorder, but do not apply the same standards to people who have the same number of children, and treat them similarly.

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      • J.G. says:

        Riight, so having a lot of kids and wanting to be poor, or (as in me and my siblings cases, some sick, uneducated sub-human’s idea of paradise) was subjected to, what translated to serving our parents hand and foot, working for free moving around frequently and having our individual life and career choices to be sabotaged by our parents and their friends at every turn, even into our adulthood (No. 1 reason why we won’t go to any blasted churches).

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      • Jeffrey says:

        I completely agree, but I believe there is one caveat: What happens when their choice to have X children restricts my economic freedom?

        In other words, there are some families who tend to have many children while on one or many forms of welfare. I would argue that if you are unable to support the number of children you currently have without federal/state assistance, it is unwise for you to increase your economic burden (have more children). In fact, your decision to have more children is actually a decision which affects me economically because it is likely to increase your dependence on welfare (i.e. force me to ‘subsidize’ your additional child).

        Of course I believe it is a personal/family decision whether or not to have children. I also believe that when children become a burden of the state the parent(s) no longer have a right to continue creating more children who will become a burden on society.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Jeffrey, you might want to read a bit about the welfare reforms that happened under Bill Clinton. The stuff about going on welfare and having more kids to keep the money flowing is… well, that was back when Reagan was president. Things have changed since then. Most mothers on welfare aren’t having any more kids, and if they do, they don’t usually get any more money except for food stamps.

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    • Michael Yoo says:

      Janet, you clearly have not read the first Freakonomics book.

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  2. Josh says:

    Why is that the job of congress? Is the government your keeper? Do they control your behavior? Is this 1984?

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    • Nick Naranja says:

      I think her point is that certain members of congress want to interfere in your family planning decisions, not that they want to tell you how big your family should be.

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    • Erik Jensen says:

      No, it was “1984” until 1965 when the Supreme Court stopped conservatives from outlawing birth control. And last I checked, refusing to use birth control was still entirely legal. Go ahead and have as many kids as you want. Do you long for the good old days when birth control was illegal?

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Perhaps she’s longing for the “good new days”, when contraception is not merely “legal” but basically “free” to the user.

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      • Anon one says:

        I don’t necessarily think birth control needs to be free. I do think that all insurance companies should cover it.

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      • James says:

        I wonder why birth control shouldn’t be nearly free, or at least quite a bit cheaper than it is. With most other things, once the initial R&D cost is paid off, they become cheaper as costs of production declines. As for instance I can buy a bottle of a couple hundred generic aspirin for a few bucks, dozens, maybe hundreds, of different vitamins & supplements for pennies a pill. Why should birth control be different?

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      • Jen says:

        The old way was awful: required to see a doc to get a scrip for pills that are OTC and much cheaper in almost every other country. If you’re uninsured, you have access to neither doc nor prescription coverage. And, no surprise, such folks are the ones who can least afford surprise pregnancies (married folks too, lest anyone go off on a sex-is-evil rant).

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      • Enter your name... says:

        James, you can get many different kinds of birth control pills for $4 a month. The expensive part is getting the doctor to write a prescription.

        The reason it was a big fight is because a small number of women want new, patented, and therefore expensive versions of the pills, especially birth control pills that also reduce acne outbreaks. It’s hard to say that it’s desperately important to save couples $4 a month, because $4 a month just isn’t that big a deal for 90% of Americans.

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  3. No One says:

    Contraception and even abortions should be “Free”, meaning Sponsored by the State, because the results of not having these things be subsidized means an dramatic increase in later costs…

    Specifically the statistics on how many women denied access to contraception and abortion end up on welfare and medicaid and how these unwanted offspring have a tendency to be at the highest risk of acting out upon themselves and others and ending up in the system… Be it the DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) or CPS (Child Protective Services) or whatever it’s called in your area.

    A 2008 study found that in the State of New York, each unplanned for child cost the state $12 MILLION DOLLARS over the course of its lifetime in aid and criminal justice costs.

    How much better use could that $12 MILLION be put to if we, as taxpayers, had spent the $400.00 to allow the woman access to abortion or the $400.00 a year in Contraception?

    $400.00/year X 18 Years = $7,200.00

    What is better for society? $12 MILLION dollars spent to clean up after abused children that grow up to end up having their own unplanned pregnancies, perpetuating the generational transmission of trauma in perpetuity or $400.00 a year per woman UNTIL SHE IS READY to have a child? And by “Ready” I mean at least a High School Graduate… Not in an abusive relationship… Not an addict… Getting treatment for her mental illness… Has a job and can afford to pay for the minimum care of her child… Preferably with a Husband/Partner that also has a job and will help provide a healthy and stable family of origin for the child so it doesn’t grow up and have a horrible life of poverty, abuse, and welfare?

    WHY does this stance make me both a Baby-Killing Leftist AND a Bible-Thumping Republican Nutter AT THE SAME TIME?

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    • Fluffy Bunny says:

      Please post a link to the 2008 study you mentioned.

      io9 had an article about “The First Study” on what the long term consequences are when women denied abortions and the results are quite shocking. The most shocking thing to most people is the same conclusion that Freakonomics came to when they discovered that having an abortion early in life didn’t impact the future ability to create a family once she was ready.

      What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out.
      Most of the women who were denied an abortion, 86%, were living with their babies a year later. Only 11% had put them up for adoption. Also a year later, they were far more likely to be on public assistance — 76% of the turnaways were on the dole, as opposed to 44% of those who got abortions. 67% percent of the turnaways were below the poverty line (vs. 56% of the women who got abortions), and only 48% had a full time job (vs. 58% of the women who got abortions).

      When a woman is denied the abortion she wants, she is statistically more likely to wind up unemployed, on public assistance, and below the poverty line. Another conclusion we could draw is that denying women abortions places more burden on the state because of these new mothers’ increased reliance on public assistance programs.

      Unfortunately, when it comes to domestic violence, being denied an abortion makes a really big difference. Turnaways were more likely to stay in a relationship with an abusive partner than women who got abortions. A year after being denied an abortion, 7% reported an incident of domestic violence in the last six months. 3% of women who received abortions reported domestic violence in the same time period. Foster emphasized that this wasn’t because the turnaways were more likely to get into abusive relationships. It was simply that getting abortions allowed women to get out of such relationships more easily. So it’s likely that these numbers actually reflect a dropoff in domestic violence for women who get abortions, rather than a rise among turnaways.

      As the researchers said at the American Public Health Association Meeting, “One week after seeking abortion, 97% of women who obtained an abortion felt that abortion was the right decision; 65% of turnaways still wished they had been able to obtain an abortion.” Also one week after being denied an abortion, turnaways told the researchers that they had more feelings of anxiety than the women who had abortions. Women who had abortions overwhelming reported feeling relieved (90%), though many also felt sad and guilty afterwards. All of these feelings faded naturally over time in both groups, however. A year later, there were no differences in anxiety or depression between the two groups.

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  4. Kris says:

    Birth Control should be like any other preventive medical treatment and reasonably priced and readily available. Some should not have kids or more that 1 or 2 for medical reasons. This helps not only parents but the economy in general

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