Every Saturday the CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality. This week we’re discussing a study which found that women who have early access to the birth control pill tend to be better educated and better paid than women did not have early access to oral contraceptives.
The results of this study were discussed in a MSNBC.com article in the context of the recent debate over whether or not the federal government should require health insurance plans to pay for contraception. Martha J. Bailey, assistant professor at the University of Michigan, led this study, which analyzed data from two long-term surveys: one that looked at health and another that looked at labor force outcomes. The labor force study was started in 1968 and included 4,300 women who were between 14 and 24 at the time of their first interview. The women were re-interviewed every year until 2003. Because many states in the 1960s and ’70s only allowed women to get the pill on their own after their 18th or 21st birthday, the researchers were able to compare the career trajectories and salaries of both groups of women. The health study, conducted separately, supported the belief that women between the ages of 18 and 21 were far more likely to get a prescription for the pill if they came from a state where they could legally get it on their own. Geographical and other distribution information for these surveys were not available in the article.
Ultimately, the researchers found that women who had early access to the pill were making 8 percent more than those who did not have access. Baily states in the article that early access to the pill likely changed many women’s life plans. “Instead of deciding between dating and pursuing a career they could do both,” Bailey said. “One thing I think is important to point out is that we didn’t see a change in the number of children these women had, but we did see changes in when they decided to have them,” Bailey said. “That slight delay in the birth of their first child translated into some pretty big gains in terms of lifetime earnings.”
This study essentially points to a positive correlation (though not causation) between women having the ability to plan when or if they want to have a baby and career success. While there is proof that the pill can reduce libido in some women, there are many benefits of having access to birth control for women. In addition to those discussed in this study, others include: reduction of menstrual cramps, lighter periods, and protection against pelvic inflammatory disease, which often leads to infertility when left untreated. Certain pills can also offer protection against acne, bone thinning, breast growths that are not cancer, ectopic pregnancy, endometrial and ovarian cancers, serious infection in the ovaries and uterus, iron deficiency anemia, cysts in the breasts and ovaries, and premenstrual symptoms, including headaches and depression.