More than 1 in 3 U.S. births 'unintended'

July 24, 2012, 3:29 p.m.

In 1982, about 37 percent of births were unintended. Three decades later, that's still true. (Jake Johnson/Flickr Creative Commons)

Nearly 40 percent of births in the U.S. were unintended in 1982 – unintended meaning "unwanted" or "mistimed."

About three decades later, that rate is holding steady at 37 percent, meaning more than one in three of births in this country aren't planned.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) National Center for Health Statistics says the racial make-up of the women having these births has shifted from white to Latina women and women in their teens or 20s.

Researchers divided births into four categories:

1. Intended: The pregnancy occurred around the time the mother wanted to get pregnant.

2. Moderately mistimed: The pregnancy occurred too soon – less than two years before the mother wanted to become pregnant.

3. Seriously mistimed: The pregnancy occurred too soon – two or more years before the mother wanted to become pregnant.

4. Unwanted: The mother never wanted a baby, whether or not she already has children.

Although the rate of unplanned births has essentially remained constant since 1982 according to the CDC report, the authors say there are major differences between groups of women when it comes to unintended births.

Unmarried women, black women, low-income women and women with less education are "still much more likely to experience unintended births compared with married, white, college-educated, and high-income women."

For example, between 2006 and 2010:

– 23 percent of births to mothers between 15 and 19 were intended, compared to 75 percent of births to mothers ages 25 to 44.

– 59 percent of births to mothers who hadn't graduated from high school were intended, compared to 83 percent of births to mothers with a college degree.

– 45 percent of births to black mothers were either unwanted or seriously mistimed, compared to 35 percent of births to Latina mothers or 20 percent of births to white mothers.

– 57 percent of births to unmarried mothers were unintended, compared to 23 percent of births to married mothers.

Serena Josel, the public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, is based in South Los Angeles at the organization's office on West 30th Street. She said cost and lack of insurance coverage are barriers to accessing birth control.

"That's why the Affordable Care Act is such an important step forward," she said. "So women and families have those resources, accessible and affordable."

Sex education, too, plays a role.

"I think that's especially true not just of birth control, but also of sexually-transmitted diseases," said Josel. "We see there is a high rate of unintended pregnancy, but there are also high rates of STDs across Los Angeles and also in South L.A. It's really important that we couple education with access to services."

Josel said there are four Planned Parenthood health centers open in the region, but added "that's not enough to meet the need."

"It could definitely be better," she says.

In 2009, the county's Department of Public Health reports that the southside had far and away the highest rate of births to teens between 15 and 19: about 74 for every 1,000 live births.

You can read the full report, titled "Intended and Unintended Births in the United States: 1982-2010," here.

Photo by Jake Johnson via Flickr Creative Commons.

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