March 22, 2013 — Women's ability to use effective contraception to plan whether and when to have children is linked to positive financial, professional and emotional outcomes, according to a review by the Guttmacher Institute, Salon reports.
The review of more than 66 studies over 30 years documents a host of benefits that access to birth control provides to women's mental health, their general life satisfaction and their children's well-being. For instance, evidence shows that gaining legal access to contraception allowed more young women to complete a college education and more college-educated women to pursue advanced professional degrees. Contraception also helped drive women's workforce participation -- including for jobs that require advanced training and education -- and narrowed the gender-wage gap by increasing women's earning power.
In addition, reproductive autonomy drove a trend toward later marriage that enabled men and women to find "stable, economically attractive matches," according to Guttmacher. With regard to mental health, the review noted that women and men who experience unintended pregnancies are more prone than others to be depressed, anxious or discontent.
The review added that women's ability to control their fertility also benefits children's well-being. When a birth is unplanned, individuals are less prepared to be parents and more likely to develop poor relationships with their children, according to the review.
Adam Sonfield, lead author of the review, in a statement said the findings confirm what has "long been obvious to women. Contraceptive use, and the ensuing ability to decide whether and when to have children, is linked to a host of benefits for themselves, the quality of their relationships, and the well-being of their children."
Sonfield noted that access to contraception remains uneven and unequal in the U.S., particularly among women who are low-income or otherwise marginalized. The review called for policies that base "unintended pregnancy prevention efforts ... in broader antipoverty and social justice efforts" (McDonough, Salon, 3/21).