Access to Birth Control Allows More Girls to Finish High School
In 2009, Colorado’s the public health department launched an initiative that helped family planning clinics expand access to low-cost or no-cost contraceptives and reproductive health care. By 2016, the state birth rate fell 54 percent for women aged 15 to 19, and the abortion rate fell 63 percent among the same age group.
“We were shocked by the drop in abortions and unwanted pregnancy levels, but happy that it was having this effect,” said Angela Fellers LeMire, interim program manager of the Colorado Family Planning Program, who oversaw the initiative. “Everyone on the ground and in the state health department felt good about the work we were doing.”
Now, a study published in May in Advances in Science shows that the Colorado Family Planning Initiative (CFPI) had one more benefit: More young women graduated from high school. Researchers at the University of Colorado campuses in Boulder and Denver, in collaboration with those at the U.S. Census Bureau, conducted the study.
Use of the state American Community Survey and other census data from 2009 to 2017, the authors compared graduation levels in Colorado before and after the state approved the family planning program with those of 17 other states without such policies. The researchers estimated that the program reduced the percentage of Colorado women between the ages of 20 and 22 without a high school diploma by 14 percent. This resulted, they estimated, in an additional 3,800 women born between 1994 and 1996 who had finished high school in their early twenties.
“As someone studying this topic, I was surprised. I did not expect to see this great effect, “said study lead author Amanda Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado Boulder University.
For decades, the link between birth control access and educational or other achievement has been largely anecdotal. Part of the rationale behind family planning programs, including here federal program Title X– Providing reproductive health services, including birth control, for low-income and uninsured residents – is that fertility control offers other potential socio-economic benefits, such as the ability for people to complete their education. The new study, says Emily Johnston, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute who conducts economic and policy research, “is addressing a question the field has long been interested in: What are the impacts, beyond fertility, in people’s lives? ”
“So far, the evidence for the effects of contraception on women’s education and opportunities comes from the 1960s and 1970s, but much has changed since then,” wrote Martha Bailey, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Los Angeles Wired in an email. “This document shows that access to contraception can help women take advantage of opportunities and increase their prospects in the labor market.”
To see if access to birth control – compared to other variables such as access to abortion or adoption services, school quality, fertility levels or the presence of school programs for pregnant women – was essential to contribute to the increase in levels of graduation, the authors compared the observed changes in Colorado with that group of 17 other states. (Comparative states were Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.) These states had similar general high school graduation levels and state policies, such as extended Medicaid insurance coverage. “Anything is possible, but we did not find any policy change across the country that affected these factors,” Stevenson says.
Another factor that could have affected pregnancies and high school graduation levels would have been if teens had become less sexually active. But, says Johnston, Colorado is unlikely to be unique. “You should have reason to believe that sexual activity was changing in ways that were different for different states,” she says.