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How Does Unintended Pregnancy Affect the Outcomes of Older Children? Evidence from a New Randomized Control Trial

The project: In the United States, nearly half of pregnancies are unintended, and unintended pregnancies occur five times more often among poor compared to affluent women. The consequences of unintended pregnancy for women’s education and earnings are substantial, and children born as a result of unintended pregnancy are much more likely to live in poverty compared to children whose births are intended. The implications of unintended pregnancies for older siblings are comparatively understudied, but children born to women who subsequently have an unintended pregnancy are likely to be affected by her decreased income and by the need to distribute household resources across more children. The aim of this project was to lay the ground work for a novel study of the effects of unintended pregnancies on older children. Building upon a large randomized control trial in Michigan that increases the affordability of contraceptives for women, researchers hope to examine the short- and long-term outcomes for older children in terms of their schooling, juvenile delinquency, foster care, and participation in public transfer programs.

The process: The researchers worked with the Michigan Contraceptive Access, Research, and Evaluation Study (M-CARES) to expand the number of study participants; add survey supplements that ask women about the intendedness of each birth, time and money spent on each child, parenting practices, and children’s health, schooling, extracurricular activities, behavior and well-being; document the outcomes for children of women involved in the study, during the five-year study period and until the children turn 18; and evaluate the effects of mothers’ access to free contraception on children’s outcomes.

Results: Researchers applied for funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to run a randomized control trial using the research protocols put into place through this project.

Martha J. Bailey, professor of economics, University of California-LA

Paula Fomby, associate research scientist, U-M Institute for Social Research

Alfia Karimova, assistant research scientist, U-M Institute for Social Research