Information and access to effective methods can help reduce reproductive health disparities

February 19, 2014

Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United State are unintended, with marked racial and ethnic differences in unintended pregnancy rates even after accounting for income levels. Black and Hispanic women have significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancies compared with white women.

New research from the UCSF Bixby Center examined racial and ethnic differences in contraceptive use and how methods varied according to women’s age and reproductive experiences. Using national survey data, the researchers found that:

  • Both Hispanic and Black women were less likely to use effective methods of contraception, such as hormonal methods and intrauterine devices, compared with white women.
  • Black women at risk of unintended pregnancy were less likely to use any method of contraception.
  • These trends were concentrated among younger women.

These findings could stem from several factors, including differences in women's knowledge and higher levels of concern about birth control. Black and Hispanic women also may have lower access to quality medical care and family planning services, as well as different experiences interacting with the medical system. For instance, previous research found that women of color experience more pressure to use birth control from medical providers, which may result in frustration or distrust.

These findings have significant implications for public health programs and interventions. Providers should ensure that all young women have information about highly effective contraceptive methods, and should consider communicating information outside of clinical settings. Reproductive healthcare should also be sensitive to communities that have experienced reproductive coercion, and help women maintain control over their contraceptive use. Ensuring that all women have information about and access to effective methods can help reduce widening reproductive health disparities.