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PSC Brown Bag Series

Who Gets What They Want and Why? Black-White Differences in Pregnancy Desire and Pregnancy

A PSC Brown Bag Seminar

Jennifer S. Barber (U of M, PSC)

Monday, 2/24/2020, 12:00pm.   ARCHIVED EVENT

Location: ISR-Thompson 1430

This talk draws from two papers, one that investigates whether Black and white women's desires for pregnancy are different during the transition to adulthood, and another that investigates whether Black women who have a strong desire to postpone pregnancy are less likely to see those desires fulfilled than their white peers. The papers draw from Arline Geronimus' weathering framework and Linda Burton's ideas about uncertainty and instability in the Black community to understand Black-white differences in desires for young pregnancy, alongside Warren Miller's Traits-Desires-Intentions-Behavior framework to understand why some women are more likely than others to get what they want in terms of childbearing. Both papers use the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life dataset, which followed a sample of 914 young women ages 18 and 19 with weekly survey interviews for 2.5 years. The analyses also draw from 60 semi-structured interviews with a sub-sample of these women, in which interviewers discussed the women's desires and plans for their future, including childbearing.

We demonstrate that (1) Although young Black women are significantly more likely than young White women to express ambivalence or indifference toward a pregnancy in the near future, those feelings are very rarely expressed by women in either group; (2) Black women experience a smaller reduction in the risk of pregnancy when they do not desire to become pregnant compared to White women; and (3) This Black-White disparity is in part because Black women are more likely than White women to think their intimate partner wants them to get pregnant, which is in turn associated with less contraceptive use.

Other researchers' interpretations of higher rates of undesired pregnancy among Black women as evidence that they do not want to plan their pregnancies may exacerbate racial disparities in undesired pregnancy by facilitating White women's childbearing desires more than Black women's childbearing desires. In contrast, we conclude that it is likely that many Black women who say they want to delay pregnancy really do want to delay pregnancy, but are unable to do so.


Jennifer Barber is Professor of Sociology and Research Professor in the Population Studies Center at University of Michigan. In Fall 2020, she will be Professor of Sociology and Senior Scientist at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. Barber's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of family sociology, demography, and social psychology, with a focus on young/teen pregnancy, intimate relationships, reproductive control, and intimate partner violence. Her program of research has been continuously funded by NICHD for twenty years. She recently completed an intensive longitudinal data collection project, the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life (RDSL) study, which collected weekly surveys from 1,000 18- and 19-year-old women for 2.5 years, along with 75+ semi-structured interviews and administrative data. The RDSL focuses on the types of attitudes, intimate relationships, and contraceptive practices that lead to young pregnancy. Barber's work using these data integrates statistical and qualitative analyses. Her current projects focus on (1) how violent and/or demanding intimate partners derail young women's post-secondary education plans, (2) how the dissolution of violent and non-violent intimate relationships during the transition to adulthood varies across demographic groups, and (3) how intimate relationships shape young women's expectations and ability to control heterosexual intercourse and contraceptive use

PSC Brown Bag seminars highlight recent research in population studies and serve as a focal point for building our research community. PSC Brown Bag Archive.

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