When women have access to family planning, income rises and poverty drops

November 20, 2017 by Morgan Sherburne, University of Michigan
Credit: University of Michigan

When women were able to take control of planning how many children they would have, their futures—and that of their children's—looked a little brighter.

A University of Michigan study has found that children born after the introduction of U.S. family planning programs in 1964 through 1973 had 2.8 percent higher household incomes. They were 7 percent less likely to live in poverty and 12 percent less likely to live in households receiving public assistance.

The researchers, who include Martha Bailey, Olga Malkova and Zoe McLaren, suggest that family planning programs reduce child poverty in the United States at about half the cost of the Earned Income Tax Credit and one quarter the cost of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

"Previous research has shown that after family planning programs are introduced, women have fewer babies. The harder question is understanding how improving parents' ability to plan improves their children's lives," said Bailey, a professor in the U-M Department of Economics and research professor in the Population Studies Center at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

The team estimates that about two-thirds of the gains in the resources of the average child can be attributed to the improvements in parents' incomes—a direct result of parents advancing their careers and establishing secure partnerships or marriages. The other third likely results from "selection," or the fact that fewer children are born in poorer families.

To determine this, researchers dropped the children in the poorest families from their calculations in proportion to reduction in fertility rates.

"If we look at all the children in our data and take out the ones whose parents earned the least, we could model selection," Bailey said. "Even these stark assumptions don't go far enough to explain what we see."

In the 1960s, the was prohibitively expensive, the researchers say. A year's supply cost about $812 in 2013 dollars. Poor women were about 44 percent less likely to use the pill, and had, on average, 0.6 more children than the average family with higher incomes. To reduce these barriers to birth control access, the Office of Economic Opportunity began funding family planning assistance programs in the early 1960s.

Bailey and her team used reports from the Office of Economic Opportunity to record the use of family planning services by all known providers, which included hospitals, health departments and clinics. They also use data from the 1970 National Family Study, which samples married women between the ages of 18 and 44.

Between 1964 and 1984, patient enrollment in these programs increased 400 percent. Poor women who lived in areas that had these family planning programs in place by 1970 were between 23 and 30 percent more likely to use the pill over the average for poor women.

They then compared the outcomes of these children, using Census data, before and after these family planning programs were unveiled.

"A lot of the political discussion about family planning is focused on 's rights to choose, but the large implications of family planning programs for the financial security of and their parents tend to get ignored," Bailey said.

Bailey hopes that examining the economic effects family planning programs will add another dimension to the discussion of planning.

Explore further: Family planning: Federal program reduced births to poor women by nearly 30 percent

More information: Martha Bailey et al. Does Parents' Access to Family Planning Increase Children's Opportunities? Evidence from the War on Poverty and the Early Years of Title X, (2017). DOI: 10.3386/w23971

Related Stories

UN wants better family planning

January 24, 2013

(AP)—The U.N.'s top population official wants governments to do more to ensure that women have access to family planning.

Nearly half of American children living near poverty line

March 2, 2016

Nearly half of children in the United States live dangerously close to the poverty line, according to new research from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public ...

Recommended for you

Sensual fresco discovered in ancient Pompeii bedroom

November 19, 2018

Archaeologists have found a fresco in an ancient Pompeii bedroom that depicts a sensual scene of the Roman god Jupiter, disguised as a swan, and a legendary queen of Sparta from Greek mythology.

Excavators find tombs buried in Bolivia 500 years ago

November 17, 2018

Archaeologists say they found tombs at a Bolivian quarry containing remains from more than 500 years ago that give an insight into the interaction of various peoples with the expanding Inca empire.

Preventing chemical weapons as sciences converge

November 15, 2018

Alarming examples of the dangers from chemical weapons have been seen recently in the use of industrial chemicals and the nerve agent sarin against civilians in Syria, and in the targeted assassination operations using VX ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2017
These are the sorts of programs that "fiscal conservatives" want to cut, never mind that it leads to better outcomes for citizens and, as a side bonus, reduces government debt. Can anyone tell me why they oppose this, again?
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Nov 25, 2017
Can anyone tell me why they oppose this, again?
IMHO - the potential threat to current established order and paternal culture as well as fear of change, which seems to be present in most cultures (and people in general)

perhaps there is also a lot of resentment from prejudiced beliefs as well

some people can't see beyond their own personal life, beliefs or percieved stature in society

this seems to be a good topic for a debate or study - there doesn't seem to be a lot of good information on it though (as in: factual versus the not-so-good information in opinion)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.