But unintended pregnancies – which account for about half of all pregnancies – have huge economic consequences for women’s employment, family welfare, public spending and children’s health. In a recent Guttmacher Institute study of women at 22 family planning clinics in 13 states, the most frequently cited reason given for using contraception was inability to take care of a baby at the time.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that unintended pregnancy costs American taxpayers roughly $11 billion each year.
A report by Adam Thomas published in March by the Brookings Institution shows that unintended pregnancies are disproportionately concentrated among women who are unmarried, teenage and poor. It also summarizes evidence that these pregnancies set in motion a series of unfortunate outcomes that effectively reproduce poverty.
Conventional economic theory, still taught in many college classrooms, assumes that individual decisions reflect rational choices. From this perspective, a woman who engages in sexual intercourse without making the effort required to make low-cost methods of contraception succeed (which typically includes finding a partner willing to cooperate, as with use of a condom) must either be unpardonably ignorant or trying to get pregnant.
Behavioral economics, on the other hand, emphasizes that people often lack self-control, particularly when affected by “visceral factors,” such as hunger, thirst and sexual desire.
From this perspective, people need to protect themselves, pre-emptively, from carelessness that can lead to costly consequences. Even small differences in the form protection takes can have significant long-run effects.
Women sometimes forget to take birth control pills or let their prescription lapse. Partly for this reason, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now prioritizes use of IUDs and hormonal implants. Unpopular among older physicians and older women because they were once considered risky, these methods are now rated quite safe.
Mounting evidence suggests that making these new contraceptive technologies more economically accessible reduces abortions and unwanted births.
Fortunately, we super-humans are all immune to these inconveniences of so-called overwhelming passion. Hmmm. I wonder. Even at age 80 when I have much less temptation, I doubt that.