Report Calls for 'Big Bet' on Reducing Unintended Pregnancies

Report Calls for 'Big Bet' on Reducing Unintended Pregnancies

A philanthropic investment of $1 billion in efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies could generate an economic return of between $3.2 billion and $6.4 billion for American children and families, a report from the Bridgespan Group finds.

The report, Billion Dollar Bets: Reducing Unintended Pregnancies (21 pages, PDF), examines how philanthropy could support a nationwide effort to improve women's access to the most effective contraceptive methods and drastically lower the number of unintended pregnancies — one of the "billion dollar bets" identified in an earlier Bridgespan report, "Billion Dollar Bets" to Create Economic Opportunity for Every American (33 pages, PDF). According to the report, nearly 38 percent of children born in the United States each year are unplanned, and rates of unintended pregnancies and births are higher among unmarried, African-American, less educated, and/or low-income women. The report also found that women who have unplanned or unintended pregnancies are more likely to lack access to information about long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Previous research has shown that unplanned children are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of high school, and/or become teen parents themselves.

The report notes that in Colorado, where an initiative launched in 2009 provided women with counseling about contraceptive options and free IUDs to women who wanted them, birth rates among teens and women between the ages of 20 and 24 dropped some 48 percent and 20 percent. The report outlines a number of measures needed to scale this "Colorado effect" nationwide, including raising awareness of LARCs through education, increasing the supply of and low-to-no-cost access to contraceptive options and devices; and building a stronger evidence base for the most effective interventions. Recommendations for philanthropic investments include expanding access to LARC counseling in public health centers ($300 million); building healthcare facilities' capacity to offer same-day treatment and support ($275 million); forging stronger links between primary care and family planning services ($40 million); supporting targeted advocacy to secure funding streams for contraception and sex education ($25 million); funding traditional and social media awareness campaigns ($100 million); investing in technology-enabled awareness-raising tools ($100,000); and supporting additional research ($60,000).  

According to the report, the above investments, if fully funded, would reduce the projected 3.1 million unintended births to women between the ages of 15 and 24 by between 2 percent and 4 percent over a five-year period. The report further estimates that between 62,000 and 124,000 newborns would be "properly timed" instead of unintended, and that the higher high school and college graduation rates of these children and their lower rate of teen parenthood would increase their lifetime family earnings by $52,000 per person. As a result, the $1 billion investment in reducing unintended pregnancies and births could generate between $3.2 billion and $6.4 billion in total economic benefit.

"Great gains have been made in the past two decades to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy, and philanthropy is uniquely positioned to work around the politics of the issue to accelerate this progress," said Bridgespan partner Debby Bielak, who co-authored the study. "If we were able to invest in the programs proven effective in Colorado on a national scale, we could provide millions of women, and their children, a better chance at achieving the American Dream."