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Unintended Pregnancy and Contraception

Narrative

Unintended pregnancy is a pregnancy that is mistimed (occurred too soon) or unwanted (occurred when the woman wanted no future pregnancies) at the time of conception. Unintended pregnancies that lead to births are associated with both short and long-term negative outcomes for both mother and child, including delayed prenatal care, maternal depression, increased risk for intimate partner violence, and poor developmental and educational outcomes for children.1 Historically, it has been difficult to estimate the rate of unintended pregnancy due to reporting issues specifically related to the under-reporting of pregnancies ending in abortion. However, in 2006–2010 women reported that 37.1 percent of live births occurring in the past 5 years were unintended at the time of conception. This includes 13.8 percent of pregnancies that were unwanted and 23.3 that were mistimed. Of births that were mistimed at the time of conception, 14.0 percent were reported by the mother to have occurred 2 or more years too soon (data not shown in graph images or in data tables on this site). Overall, the proportion of births that were unintended has not changed significantly since 1982.2

Unintended pregnancy varies by a variety of factors including age, as well as race and ethnicity. In 2006–2010, over three-quarters (77.2 percent) of births in the past 5 years to mothers aged 15–19 years were unintended at the time of conception. The same was true for half (50.1 percent) of births to women aged 20–24 years and one-quarter (25.4 percent) among those aged 25–44 (data not shown in graph images or in data tables on this site). Births to non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were more likely than those to non-Hispanic White women to have been unintended (53.5 and 42.9 versus 30.7 percent, respectively). Of births to non-Hispanic Black women that were mistimed, 21.8 percent were 2 or more years too soon, which is two times higher than for births to non-Hispanic White women (10.8 percent; data not shown in graph images or in data tables on this site).

Unintended pregnancies can be averted with proper use of effective contraceptives. In 2006–2010, 4.7 million or 11.0 percent of women at risk of unintended pregnancy—who were having intercourse and not sterile, pregnant, or trying to get pregnant—reported that they were not using contraception. Younger women were more likely to not be using contraception while at risk for unintended pregnancy.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020 Topics and Objectives: Family Planning. Accessed 08/23/12.

2 Mosher WD, Jones J, Abma JC. Intended and unintended births in the United States: 1982–2010. National health statistics reports; no 55. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.

Graphs

Data

Intendedness of Births at Conception* Among Women Aged 15-44, by Race/Ethnicity,** 2006-2010
Race/Ethnicity Percent of Births
Intended Births Unwanted Births Mistimed Births
*Reported for all births occurring in the 5-year period prior to the interview. Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.
**Samples of non-Hispanic persons of other races and those reporting two or more race or origin groups were too small to produce reliable results. Source: Mosher WD, Jones J, Abma JC. Intended and unintended births in the United States: 1982–2010. National health statistics reports; no 55. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.
Total 62.9 13.8 23.3
Non-Hispanic White 69.3 9.3 21.4
Non-Hispanic Black 46.5 22.9 30.6
Hispanic 57.1 18.1 24.8

No Current Contraceptive Use Among Women Aged 15-44 at Risk of Unintended Pregnancy,* by Age, 2006-2010

Percent of Women:

  • Total: 11.0
  • 15-19 Years: 18.0
  • 20-24 Years: 13.0
  • 25-29 Years: 11.4
  • 30-34 Years: 8.8
  • 35-39 Years: 10.2
  • 40-44 Years: 8.6

*At risk of unintended pregnancy is defined as having had intercourse in the last 3 months among those who were not currently pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or sterile for health reasons.

Source: Jones, J, Mosher WD, Daniels K. Current Contraceptive Use in the United States, 2006-2010, and Changes in Patterns of Use Since 1995. National health statistics reports; no 60. Hyattsville, MD:National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.