Contraception has shaped American women's lives since they gained access to The Pill in the early 1960s. One benefit, however, seems to have received less recognition than the rest: Yes, contraception allows women to enjoy sex without fear of pregnancy and to decide when and how many times they got pregnant. But it also offers women financial freedom.
Very little research has been conducted on why American women use contraception, say Jennifer Frost and Laura Lindber, authors of a new Guttemacher Institute study that asked 2,094 U.S. women how they feel about birth control. The majority of participants, all of whom received services at one of 22 family planning clinics around the country, indicated that contraception is part of their strategy for achieving and maintaining financial stabilty.
Sixty-five percent said they use contraception because they can't afford to care for a baby, and 56 percent said taking it helps them support themselves. Fifty-one percent said the pill helped them finish school, half said it helped them get and keep a job, and 63 percent said it helped them take care of themselves and their families. Almost all of the mothers who participated in the study said they're using contraception so that they have more time and energy to devote to their existing children.
The study, published in the current issue of the journal Contraception (read the full text here), arrives in the home stretch of a presidential election in which women's reproductive rights have become a lightning-rod issue. President Obama has presented himself as a defender of women's access to affordable reproductive health services, while the Romney campaign has insisted that the election is about the economy, not social issues.
Recently Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan argued that reproductive rights have very real economic implications:
Here's a really important, apparently little-known fact that might blow some minds, if only it would sink in: pregnancy and childbirth cost money. A lot of it. And many, many organizations have been trying to point this out for a very long time. People's grandmothers have already gotten headaches from banging their heads against this wall. So why the notion that women's health is separate from "the economy" still a notion that's given any credence whatsoever?
Ryan also quoted the USDA's latest estimate of how much it costs to raise a kid for 17 years: $300,000.
More recently, Anna North of Buzzfeed Shift noted that the new Guttermacher research didn't explore how contraception actually impacts women's educational or career opportunities or career advancement. It simply asked women whether they thought access to contraception impacted those things positively. However, she concluded, "If women feel that birth control helps them stay solvent and keep their jobs, framing it as entirely separate from economic concerns may not resonate with them." Which could impact their votes.