Birth Control

It’s a Money Thing: Denying Women Birth Control Causes Lasting Economic Effects

New research shows that access to contraception creates long-term benefits for women and their families.

There is so much religious and political party rhetoric surrounding family planning these days, it’s easy to forget that birth control is an economic issue. New research shows that greater access to contraception is not only advantageous for women, but also creates long-term income benefits that extend into future generations.

When contraception is more affordable and available—which Republicans (and even a couple of Democrats!) were willing to shut down the government to prevent—women earn higher incomes. In fact, the birth control pill helped reduce the wage gap between men and women by about 30 percent in the 1990s, says University of Michigan economist Martha Bailey in her study, 50 Years of Family Planning.

“Delaying parenthood for a year or two could allow soon-to-be parents to get more education, work experience, and job training, and thus increase their lifetime earnings,” she says.

This we mostly knew. But thanks to Bailey’s long-term research, we also know that when women have access to contraception, their kids also do better in life: Children conceived in areas with greater financial access to family planning were 2 to 7 percent more likely to finish college, and had 2 to 3 percent–higher incomes.

It turns out the story of our approach to birth control has always been an economic one. Before the U.S. Supreme Court made contraception legal in 1965, about half of the states had bans on selling contraception. But the post-war baby boom was taking its toll, and growing families were burdened by rising costs nationwide. By 1964, over 80 percent of Gallup respondents said the Pill, approved by the FDA in 1960, “should be available to anyone who wants it.”

Once the Supreme Court’s Griswold v. Connecticut case removed the legal barriers to contraception, the nation’s attention turned to issues of financial access. The first domestic family planning programs in the 1960s were funded with the intention of expanding economic opportunities for disadvantaged women as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Thanks to increased state and federal funding between 1969 and 1983, the number of people using family planning services jumped from 1.2 million to nearly 5 million. And when Title X of the Public Health Service Act created federal support of family planning services in 1970, Americans approved: 84 percent of adults said birth control should be made available by the government to all men and women who want it (including 87 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats).

When we look at the contraceptive mandate that helped cause our current government shutdown through an economic lens, the picture changes. Employers who try to deny female employees access to contraception as covered preventative care in their health insurance are not only reducing women’s long-term earnings, they’re also reducing their children’s lifetime earnings too. You know what that is? Wage discrimination against women and their families.

For over 50 years, bi-partisan public policies—and national sentiment—have consistently supported the ideal of equal access to contraception. If it’s not fair to limit access to contraception according to where women live—or how much money they have—then how is it right to discriminate according to their employer’s religious beliefs?

Margaret Sanger, one of the “mothers” of the Pill, called female-controlled contraception, “nothing less than a precondition of the emancipation of women,” according to the PBS documentary The Pill. History shows that equal access to contraception is an economic freedom all women deserve.

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