Knocked Up — Twenty-Somethings & Unplanned Pregnancy

Katherine Heigl and Leslie Mann in a scene from the movie "Knocked Up"

Here’s a quiz for you.*

Since the 1990s the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States has:
A. declined by about a third.
B. stayed about the same.
C. increased by a third.

The group of unmarried women in the U.S. most likely to have used an effective method of birth control the last time they had sex is:
A. teenagers.
B. women in their twenties.
C. women in their thirties.

The group with the highest number of unplanned pregnancies in the United States is:
A. women in their twenties.
B. teenagers.
C. women in their thirties.

*From: “What You Don’t Know About Unplanned Pregnancy”  The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The answer to all three questions is “A”: the rate of teen pregnancy has dropped by a third; teens are most likely to have used an effective method of birth control; and the group with the highest number of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. today is women in their twenties.

For the past three decades teen pregnancy has received well-deserved attention at both the state and national levels. Although the rate remains higher than we’d like it to be, Maine has made tremendous advances in reducing the number of teen pregnancies.

While teen pregnancy rates have been consistently dropping, the rate of unintended pregnancy among unmarried women in their twenties has risen significantly. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, but among unmarried women in their twenties, nearly three-quarters (71%) of pregnancies are unplanned.

The truth is, adults as well as teenagers have difficulty planning and preventing pregnancy. And unplanned pregnancy at any age is not conducive to healthy outcomes for women and their families.

Women who have an unplanned pregnancy are at greater risk of poverty, of starting prenatal care late, and of having a low birth weight baby. Unplanned pregnancy places both mothers and fathers at greater risk of depression, relationship conflict, educational hardship and failure to achieve education and career goals.

Why do 20-somethings have such a high rate of unplanned pregnancy? This question has been studied extensively in recent years and the answer has several parts.

  • Today’s young adults are delaying marriage, resulting in more years of having sex outside of marriage
  • Twenty-somethings are the age group least likely to have health insurance
  • The economic downturn has hit young adults especially hard, making it difficult for them to have ‘adult’ lives (i.e., many of them are still living at home)
  • Twenty-somethings have attitudes & beliefs that put them at risk of unplanned pregnancy

In addition, unlike teens who are still in school, most 20-somethings are not in settings that lend themselves to health promotion interventions. However, there are some things we can do to help young adults reduce their risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

Family planning providers in Maine work closely with women in their 20′s through our system of clinics. In the year 2011, Maine’s family planning systems saw over 12,000 individual women in their twenties for nearly 20,000 visits. We provide free or low-cost family planning and reproductive health care. We work with individual clients to help them find the birth control method that will be most successful in helping them prevent unplanned pregnancy.

The FPA advocates for public policies that ensure access to free and low-cost family planning services for all Mainers who need them. Studies have shown that reducing financial barriers and increasing Medicaid coverage of birth control helps reduce rates of unplanned pregnancy.

The question still remains of how to reach a larger audience of twenty-somethings with age-appropriate messages about the importance of birth control and family planning.

A recent National Campaign report, The Target Speaks, shares that while most young adults consider unplanned pregnancy to be a very important issue, a significant majority of them also report putting themselves at risk for causing a pregnancy or getting pregnant.

In response to research findings, the Campaign has created Bedsider.org, an excellent online birth control support network for 20-something women and men.

We are happy to promote Besider as a tool young adults can use to decrease their odds of experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. And we invite you to share the site with the 20-somethings in your life.

Check it out and let us know what you think!

~ Nancy

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