Unintended Pregnancy: The Epidemic

In Unintended Pregnancy: Incidence and Outcomes Among Young Adult Unmarried Women in the United States, 2001 and 2008, published by The Guttmacher Institute, authors Mia Zolna and Laura Lindberg outline how unintended pregnancy in the United States has reached epidemic levels.

Given these high rates of unintended pregnancy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has prioritized reducing it in an effort to improve the nation’s health.  Most individuals and couples want to plan the timing and spacing of their childbearing, given that doing so helps them avoid unintended pregnancies and achieve a range of social, economic and family goals.  It also protects women’s and children’s health by preventing unwanted or mistimed births, which are associated with such abnormalities as delayed prenatal care, premature birth, and negative mental health effects for children.

Recent trends in non-marital childbearing heighten the need to focus on unmarried young adult women.  Delays in marriage among women in their 20s have contributed to the fact that this group has the highest rate of birth outside of marriage, with women in their twenties accounting for 72% of non-marital births in 2009.

Because both young women and unmarried women are particularly vulnerable to unintended pregnancy, recent studies have focused on identifying behavioral and other factors that contribute to unintended pregnancy among these groups.  However, although such research is helpful, attitudes and behaviors related to risk, as well as detailed estimates of the unintended pregnancy levels among unmarried women in their twenties have never been published.

The authors present numbers and rates of unintended pregnancy among all women aged 20–29, by
marital status, and among unmarried women aged 20–29, by key population subgroups for years 2001 and 2006. Also reported are the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion, the percentage of all births that were unintended and the rate of unintended births.

The authors hope that the information presented will inform the work of others who are interested in reducing unintended pregnancy among young adult unmarried women.

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