The Counterintuitive Consequences of Birth Control

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A bit of recent research appears to confirm something I’ve been arguing from theoretical grounds for decades:

Access to the birth control pill in the U.S. has increased the births of children outside of marriage, especially among poor and minority women, according to a new study of the contraceptive’s historic effects.

“Our findings add to a growing literature which documents the power of the pill to shape women’s lives in broadly heterogenous ways, with minority and less-well-educated women bearing the brunt of the losses, a phenomenon we call the paradox of the pill,” economics professors Andrew Beauchamp and Catherine R. Pakaluk said in their paper, “The Paradox of the Pill: Heterogeneous Effects of Oral Contraceptive Access.”

“We find robust evidence that access to the pill increased nonmarital childbearing and reduced the likelihood of high-school graduation,” they said.

There are two important principles coming into view, here.  The first is something I wrote about in a 2004 post about the trajectory that our thoughts about sex, marriage, and family have been on, as a culture.  The relevant point, here, is that contraception intellectually and culturally separates sex from procreation.

Consequently, regardless of whether a particular couple is using contraception (or using it correctly), people begin behaving sexually as if children aren’t really a consideration.  When one is conceived, therefore, the tendency will be to blame the contraception, or its lack of availability, or whatever reasons one might have for not using it.  The pregnancy therefore seems unfair, increasing the demand for abortion.

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The second principle is one that I expressed frequently when same-sex marriage was still a matter of public debate.  Namely, that people who don’t necessarily need marriage in order to have healthy relationships or to raise children reasonably well are actually investing in a culture of marriage that benefits more-vulnerable people.

We see the same thing with contraception.  More-privileged groups of people will not only have more access to contraception but also stronger cultural guides for the regulation of their behavior.  Yet, their view of sex will define the culture and affect the behavior of those who are less privileged and less responsible.



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