The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 13, 2018

People are saying #ThxBirthControl for boosting women’s education and the national economy

Women’s contributions to the US economy are critical to achieving and maintaining robust economic growth. In 2017, women were 47 percent of all employed adults, 73 percent of our nation’s educators, and 75 percent of our health care providers. Women also earned 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2014–15.

The power of the pill

The introduction of the birth control pill in 1960 gave women increased power to plan their reproductive futures; align their family, educational, and career goals; and be full and active participants in the economy.

Since then, there have been several federal, state, and local efforts to expand women’s access to affordable birth control through the expansion of insurance for family planning services and the availability of family planning providers like Planned Parenthood. Researchers have found that these efforts reduced all births, teen births, unplanned births, and Medicaid-funded births throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Consistent evidence has also linked birth control access to broad economic benefits for women and their families. Gaining legal access to birth control before age 21 in the 1960s and 1970s increased women’s college attendance and completion and their workforce participation. Researchers estimate that access to birth control was responsible for 30 percent of the reduction in the gender pay gap in the 1990s.

Birth control access today

Following decades of incremental efforts to increase access to birth control, including several provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than two-thirds of women at risk of unplanned pregnancy were consistently using birth control in 2016.

Still, about one in six women faced barriers to obtaining their preferred method in 2016, and such barriers were twice as common for uninsured women. Efforts to eliminate remaining barriers would need to go beyond coverage alone to address persistent disparities in access to care for women of color, immigrant communities, and rural residents.

But since 2016, the administration and Congress have taken actions that may jeopardize women’s access to reproductive health care and birth control and the educational and economic benefits that come along with it. These include cutting spending on open enrollment advertising, repealing the ACA’s individual mandate, and allowing states to implement work requirements for Medicaid enrollees, which may limit women’s access to care if they lose health insurance coverage.

The administration has also issued new regulations allowing employers to claim religious or moral objections to offering no-cost birth control, cut funding for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program, and proposed changes to Title X funding, which may have more direct effects on access to birth control among teens and low-income women.

Still, there is room for optimism, as several more states are poised to expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA. Virginia has already begun enrolling new beneficiaries, and Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, and Utah have passed ballot measures adopting the expansion and are expected to begin implementation in 2019. These expansions are expected to extend coverage to 842,000 low-income adults, and women gaining coverage under these expansions will receive a benefit package that includes coverage for all Food and Drug Administration–approved birth control methods.    

Thanks, birth control!

At a time when women’s access to affordable and effective birth control is playing a central role in many federal and state policy debates, it is important to remember that the benefits of birth control extend beyond avoiding pregnancy and include expanded educational and economic opportunities for women.

Consistent with evidence linking birth control to economic benefits for women and their families, women report that birth control helps them get an education and keep working.

So thanks, birth control, for more than 50 years of helping women get an education and contribute to the US economy.

Photo by Mentatdgt/Shutterstock.

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