Key Points

• A large and growing body of literature explores the social and economic benefits of women’s ability to use reliable contraception to plan whether and when to have children.

• Historical research has linked state laws granting unmarried women early legal access to the pill (at age 17 or 18, rather than 21), to their attainment of postsecondary education and employment, increased earning power and a narrowing of the gender gap in pay, and later, more enduring marriages.

• Contemporary studies indicate that teen pregnancy interferes with young women’s ability to graduate from high school and to enroll in and graduate from college. Conversely, planning, delaying and spacing births appears to help women achieve their education and career goals. Delaying a birth can also reduce the gap in pay that typically exists between working mothers and their childless peers and can reduce women’s chances of needing public assistance.

• Unplanned births are tied to increased conflict and decreased satisfaction in relationships and with elevated odds that a relationship will fail. They are also connected with depression, anxiety and lower reported levels of happiness. Contraceptive access and consistent method use may also affect mental health outcomes by allowing couples to plan the number of children in their family.

• People are relatively less likely to be prepared for parenthood and develop positive parentchild relationships if they become parents as teenagers or have an unplanned birth. Close birthspacing and larger family size are also linked with parents’ decreased investment in their children. All of this, in turn, may influence children’s mental and behavioral development and educational achievement.

• Because not all women have shared equally in the social and economic benefits of contraception, there is more work to be done in implementing programs and policies that advance contraceptive access and help all women achieve their life goals if and when they decide to become mothers