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Unraveling the connection between unintended pregnancy and education

3/24/2017 feature story

Akilah Wise, Arline Geronimus, and Pamela Smock analyze the links between educational attainment, early education advantage, and unintended pregnancy.

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Arline T. Geronimus
Pamela Smock
Akilah Wise

Publication Information:

Wise, Akilah, Arline T. Geronimus, and Pamela Smock. 2017. "Best of Intentions: A structural analysis of the association between socioeconomic disadvantage and unintended pregnancy in a sample of mothers from the NLSY79." Women's Health Issues, 27(1): 5-13. PMCID: PMC5219931.

Births to less educated women are more likely to be classified as unintended than other births. We question a common interpretation that this association reflects a lack of contraceptive knowledge or self-efficacy among less educated women. Instead, we theorize that differences in early-life educational advantages structure pregnancy desires and the salience and opportunity costs of precise fertility timing, and that net of covariates indicative of early educational disadvantage, mothers with less education are *not* more likely to report births as unintended than mothers with more education. We analyze a sample of women in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979) who had their first births by 1994, testing whether an index measure of educational advantage in youth predicts unintended first birth. Unadjusted results confirm well-documented associations between educational disadvantage and greater likelihood of unintended pregnancy. However, once covariates are controlled, those with high educational advantage in youth are more likely to report their first birth as mistimed Our findings indicate that educational advantage captures expectations about how much education a young woman will obtain before giving birth and is a structural dynamic that precedes proximate factors related to family planning access and behaviors. These findings highlight the need to incorporate structural factors that condition perceptions of pregnancy intention in the study of unintended pregnancy and to critically reevaluate the conceptualization and interpretation of pregnancy intention measures.

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