Study explains racial disparities in unintended pregnancies


According to a press release from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, 51 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and are disproportionately common among racial and ethnic minorities.

The study, made available on Nov. 23, examined why African American and Hispanic women have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than White women and found that much of the disparity stemmed from maternal age and marital status, among other factors. The study is said to support public health efforts targeted toward women that are younger, unmarried, who have less income than whites and are less educated.

Unintended pregnancies among minorities have also taken a toll on the economy, with the nation’s total public costs for birth, miscarriages and abortions from unintended pregnancies tallying up to $21 billion in 2010.

Dr. Rada Dagher, Ph.D, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of health services administration in the School of Public Health, says that preventing unintended pregnancies “should be a public health priority.”

“Our study showed that there are modifiable factors such as health insurance status and education that can be targeted by policymakers to reduce these disparities,” Dagher said in the press release.

The study used the National Survey of Family Growth data from 2006 to 2010 and also found that women who experience unintended pregnancies reported increased levels of stress and depression and were more likely to have household dysfunction and suffer psychological and physical abuse.

“In general, it’s better for the woman to be able to (take) control of whether she gets pregnant or not and one of the interesting things was that if the respondent’s mother was 25 years old or younger when she had her first child, her daughter is more likely to have an unintended pregnancy,” Dagher said.

This case proves true in the case of 19-year-old Brittany Richardson, mother of six-month-old Gabrielle. Richardson’s mother was only 18 when she became pregnant with Brittany but was surprised to learn, almost two decades later, that her first child would become a mother herself.

“My mom wasn’t really into school like I am when she had me and she was still in high school. The entire time I was in high school, I was focused on not getting pregnant then, but I didn’t look too much farther than that,” Richardson joked. “If anything, that influenced my decision to actually have Gabby. My mom gave me a chance so I wanted my daughter to have a chance too.”

Richardson, a former student at Old Dominion University, took a year off of school to be closer to her daughter but entered college with enough credits to classify her as a sophomore, giving her “cushion” to take a gap year to bond with her baby.

Dr. Dagher lists lack of education among young girls on methods of contraception as one factor in unintended pregnancies, to which Richardson attests. If she had been informed of the different methods of birth control, she may not have gotten pregnant, Richardson explained.

Although the study focused on younger mothers and the trend of women of minorities having unintended pregnancies, it is not exclusive to that group. Angela Battle, mother of Ajaya, was well into her adult years when she became unexpectedly pregnant with her first and only child, but nonetheless, experienced some of the same difficulties that young mothers may face.

Both Battle and Richardson admit that the birth of their daughters have been the highlight of their lives, despite the fact that they were not necessarily ready to become parents at the time they did. However, both also say that personal responsibility is very important in preventing unintended pregnancies raising children.

“Even though I was kind of older, I still had to grow up fast once I learned that I was pregnant. I was an adult but I was still in a younger state of mind. I knew then that I had to pull it together and do what I needed to [in order] to raise my daughter,” Battle said.

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