About 40% of births are reported as unintended by men, mirroring rates of unintended births among women, according to "Exploring U.S. Men’s Birth Intentions," by Laura Lindberg and Kathryn Kost of the Guttmacher Institute. Roughly two-thirds of unintended births are mistimed, according to the fathers, while about one-third are unwanted.
The authors' analysis of data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth found that rates of unintended births vary significantly by fathers' union status, age, education level, and race and ethnicity. For example, three out of four births reported by single men were unintended, compared with only one of four births reported by married men. Surprisingly, more than one in ten single men indicated that they did not know about the pregnancy until after the child was born.
Unintended births were more common among younger men and men with lower levels of education than among older and more educated men, respectively. Racial and ethnic disparities were also apparent. Unintended births were especially prevalent among black men, the majority of whose births were unintended (51%), while smaller proportions were unintended among Hispanic men (38%) and white men (34%).
"We need to include men in our discussions about unintended pregnancy and foster strategies to help men work as individuals and with their partners to control when or if they have children," says lead author Laura Lindberg.
The study found striking differences in birth planning among men of similar union status but different race or ethnicity. Nonmarital childbearing was more likely to be intended by Hispanic and black men than by white men. Among cohabiting men, planned births were more commonly reported by Hispanic fathers than by white or black fathers, while among single men, births were more likely to be intended by black fathers than by white fathers. These findings suggest that the acceptability of nonmarital childbearing varies among racial and ethnic groups.
The study also examined men's happiness about the birth of each of their children. Not surprisingly, men who planned the birth of a child were more likely to be happy about the birth than were those who had not planned the birth. However, many men who had an unintended birth, particularly those who were married, reported being very happy about the birth.
"Marriage appears to be a desired context for childbearing for some men," notes Lindberg, "while others might be happy having a child as a single dad. It seems there are cultural differences in these attitudes that warrant further exploration. Regardless of a man's marital status or race, his community and health care providers should recognize his fertility desires and empower him to plan his family."
"Exploring U.S. Men's Birth Intentions" is currently available online and will appear in a forthcoming issue of Maternal and Child Health Journal.