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Does Access to Birth Control Reduce Poverty?

2014 April 14
by Eric Horowitz

In American politics the proliferation of birth control is important because of how it affects the eternal resting place of our immortal souls. But believe it or not, there are also non-metaphysical policy consequences to increasing access to birth control. A new study by a pair of economists — Stephanie Browne of J.P. Morgan and Sara LaLumia of Williams College — suggests that access to birth control led to a significant reduction in female poverty rates.

This paper examines the relationship between legal access to the birth control pill and female poverty. We rely on exogenous cross-state variation in the year in which oral contraception became legally available to young, single women. Using census data from 1960 to 1990, we find that having legal access to the birth control pill by age 20 significantly reduces the probability that a woman is subsequently in poverty. We estimate that early legal access to oral contraception reduces female poverty by 0.5 percentage points, even when controlling for completed education, employment status, and household composition.

A second analysis with less robust controls found that access to the pill reduced poverty rates by one full percentage point. Given that the mean poverty rate for women over the relevant time period was 10%-15%, the findings suggest that access to the pill led to a 3 to 10 percent reduction in the female poverty rate. According to Browne and LaLumia, the low end of their estimated impact is equivalent to about a 1 percentage point decrease a state’s unemployment rate.

But wait, there’s more! The results also supported previous findings that suggest access to birth control leads to a statistically significant reduction in the chances a woman will get divorced.

So there you have it. Poverty reduction and strong marriages. The pill is everything a social conservative could ever want.
Browne, S., & LaLumia, S. (2014). The Effects of Contraception on Female Poverty Journal of Policy Analysis and Management DOI: 10.1002/pam.21761

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