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New resource summarizes economic research on the effects of access to contraception on women’s education and work

Washington, DC—Access to contraception increases women’s educational attainment, labor force participation, and earnings, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which synthesizes rigorous quantitative research on the economic impact of access to contraception in the United States and beyond.

Findings from the literature show that access to contraception:

  • Increased women’s educational attainment and labor force participation: Access to the contraceptive pill allows women to delay childbirth and increase their human capital investment in education and their careers. Studies showed that contraceptive access increased women’s college enrollment by an estimated 12 to 20 percent and was responsible for 15 percent of the increases in women’s labor force participation that occurred from 1970 to 1990.
  • Improved women’s career outcomes: Starting in the 1970s, women became a growing share of professionals in careers like, medicine and law. Among college-educated women, one-third of this increase can be attributed to access to the contraceptive pill.
  • Increased women’s earnings and reduced poverty: Women with access to the pill saw their wages grow more rapidly in their 30s and 40s than women without access, resulting in substantially higher earnings. Having access to contraception by age 20 also reduced the probability that a woman lived in poverty later in life. Research also shows that the economic effects of contraception access extended to the next generation, with a substantial reduction in the number living in poverty as children and into adulthood.

The report connects evidence from legislative and funding changes in the 1960s and 1970s, beginning with the approval of the birth control pill, to the current policy landscape. Although the findings indicate that any changes to contraceptive access today will be less  pronounced than they were in the 1960s and 70s—given much greater access to both contraception and abortion today, particularly for high-income women— any changes in contraceptive access today  could have disproportionate effects for women whose economic security is already threatened.

Economist Kelly Jones, Ph.D., Director of IWPR’s Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health, commented on the findings:

“Decades of scholarly evidence makes an ironclad case that affordable contraception is key to women’s education and career opportunities. Policymakers must understand and respect the scientific evidence and ensure that all women, including those with low incomes, have access to the health care they need to live their fullest lives.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in collaboration with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.