Young Adulthood is a Period of High Risk for Unintended Pregnancy and Birth

Increased Use of Highly Effective Contraceptive Methods Can Have a Real Impact in Reducing Risk

More than two-thirds of pregnancies among unmarried women aged 20–29 were unintended in 2008, according to "Unintended Pregnancy: Incidence and Outcomes Among Young Adult Unmarried Women in the United States, 2001 and 2008," by Mia Zolna and Laura Duberstein Lindberg of the Guttmacher Institute. By comparison, only half of pregnancies among all women of reproductive age were unintended. In 2008, nearly 10% of unmarried women aged 20-29 (95 per 1,000) experienced an unintended pregnancy. Moreover, this represents a slight increase since 2001, when it stood at 92 per 1,000.

"One of the most powerful ways that we can improve the health and well-being of women and their families is to make contraception easier and more affordable to use," says Guttmacher policy expert Adam Sonfield. "Expanding insurance coverage and public funding for the most effective methods of contraception—and for the counseling and education needed to help women and couples choose the method that is best for them—can go a long way toward reducing unintended pregnancies and births in this high-risk age group."

Social and economic disadvantage continue to be strongly linked to increased risk for unintended pregnancy. The authors found that in 2008, black and Hispanic women had rates of unintended pregnancy twice those of their white counterparts, while rates among poor women were more than four times the rate for women in the highest income group.

The analysis sheds light on the role that unintended pregnancy plays in driving the nonmarital birthrate. In 2008, 54% of births among unmarried 20–29-year-olds resulted from an unintended pregnancy, compared with 31% among their married counterparts. And disparities persist in birthrates as well: Black and Hispanic women had unintended birthrates more than twice that of white women, while poor women had an unintended birthrate more than seven times that of women in the highest income group.

"Young people typically have sex for the first time around age 17, but generally don't marry until their mid-20s, putting them at high risk of unintended pregnancy and birth for a decade or more," says study co-author Laura Lindberg. "We can't just focus on reducing teen pregnancies anymore. We need to expand our focus to include helping young adult women and their partners reduce their risk through improved contraceptive use."

The authors analyzed data for 2001 and 2008 from multiple high-quality national data sources to provide the first-ever detailed estimates of the level of unintended pregnancy among unmarried women in their 20s.

For more information on unintended pregnancy in the United States, click here.

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