Determinants of Unintended Pregnancy and Modern Family Planning Use

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Unintended pregnancy, defined as a pregnancy that is mistimed or unwanted, is one of the world’s most common negative health outcomes. Furthermore, the United Nations Population Fund has found that 225 million women wish to delay or avoid pregnancy yet do not engage in modern family planning method use. Unintended pregnancy affects both maternal health (by way of nutrient deficiency, reproductive organ deficiency, and mental health) and child health (low birth weight, reduced gestational age, and nursing difficulties). The most life-saving and cost-saving means to prevent unintended pregnancy is to encourage modern family planning use. This dissertation examines family planning and unintended pregnancy in three different national contexts. In these studies, I:

  1. Decompose the differences in unintended pregnancy rates for black and Hispanic women compared to white women in the United States;

  2. Examine the relationship among indicators of health literacy, health system access, and utilization of modern family planning in Senegal;

  3. Evaluate an intervention in Benin designed to increase modern family planning use.

My research found that black and Hispanic women had a greater likelihood of unintended pregnancy compared to white women. However, psychosocial and socioeconomic factors contributed to the greater likelihoods of unintended pregnancy among racial and ethnic minorities. Among indicators of health literacy, oral and visual messages were the strongest predictors of health system access and modern family planning use in Senegal. The conclusion of the intervention in Benin found that social diffusion behaviors increased among people in the treatment group, and furthermore, the intervention did reduce unmet need for modern family planning use. These research results, though from different research studies, can imply that increasing access as much as possible to modern family planning use can ultimately prevent unintended pregnancy.