percent among women with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level. Among women whose incomes exceeded 200 percent of the poverty level, 45 percent of all pregnancies were unintended.

Consistent with the higher rates of unintended pregnancy among women in poverty, unintended pregnancy is much more common among black than white women. Data from the 1990 NSFG show that the percentage of births reported as unintended at time of conception was 62 percent among black women; among white women, the comparable figure was 41 percent7 (Piccinino, forthcoming).

Among some smaller subgroups, the proportions of pregnancies that are unintended may be appreciably higher than for the nation as a whole. Groups for whom this appears to be the case include, for example, women who are homeless, teenagers who have dropped out of school and engage in multiple high-risk behaviors, of which sexual intercourse without contraception is only one, and women who are heavy abusers of alcohol and illegal drugs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994; Armstrong et al., 1991).

Trends in Unintended Pregnancy

A key question is whether unintended pregnancy is becoming more or less prevalent. The data available to answer this question are limited because of the underreporting of abortion within the NSFG, as noted above. Forrest and Singh (1990) supplemented the 1982 and 1988 NSFG data on births with more complete information on abortions and found that the overall incidence of unintended pregnancy increased very slightly between 1982 and 1987, from 55.5 to 57.3 percent. Over those same years, however, there was a larger increase in the proportion of births resulting from unintended pregnancies, primarily because of a small decrease in the proportion of unintended pregnancies that were aborted.8 Put another way, given an unintended pregnancy, slightly fewer women obtained abortions in 1987 than in 1982, resulting in more children being born who were unintended at the time of conception (Forrest and Singh, 1990). Similar data are not available after 1987 on this complex relationship among pregnancies, abortions, and births.


Data are reported here on births rather than pregnancies because the research summarized in Table 2-2, which is the source for the narrative text in this section, did not include differential rates of unintended pregnancy by race, but only by marital status, age, and poverty level.


Possible reasons for this phenomenon include the passage by states of restrictive abortion laws, decreased numbers of facilities performing abortions, changing views about the acceptability of abortion as a solution to unintended pregnancy, and increased social tolerance for nonmarital childbearing.

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