More Teen Girls Graduate High School When They Have Birth Control Access, Study Shows

HealthIn Depth
More Teen Girls Graduate High School When They Have Birth Control Access, Study Shows
Photo:Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

A new study has found that graduation rates for teen girls tend to go up when they have access to the full range of contraceptives.

Researchers from the United States Census Bureau who conducted the study made the finding after analyzing the impact of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program dedicated to expanding reproductive health services across the state. In 2009, the initiative sought to make birth control more affordable by making every form of contraceptive on the market available at every Title X Colorado clinic (Title X being the federally funded family planning program that was devastated by the Trump administration).

Since then, the percentage of young women to graduate from high school increased by two percent and appears to have led to a 14 percent decrease in the number of young women in Colorado without a high school diploma. Among Hispanic women, the shift is particularly stark: According to the Census Bureau, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative’s efforts to make contraceptives more accessible decreased the proportion of Hispanic women in Colorado who hadn’t completed high school by 21.8 percent.

“This improvement is important: Failure to graduate from high school sets individuals on a path of reduced lifetime educational attainment that has become increasingly associated with poor life chances, driving inequalities in lifetime earnings and mortality,” researchers explained in the paper they published last week in Science Advances.

They aren’t the first to suggest that increased access to birth control results in increased access to education. Studies have shown that birth control’s link to educational opportunities dates back to when the pill first became available: In 1970, college enrollment went up by 20 percent for women who could legally access the birth control pill before age 18. And being able to get the pill before 21 “has been found to be the
most influential factor in enabling women already in college to stay in
college,” according to a Planned Parenthood fact sheet.

Nonetheless, the Census Bureau’s study is a necessary addition to this body of research because it establishes the role family planning programs can play in guaranteeing these educational outcomes. (Though of course no amount of evidence, no matter how convincing, will stop conservatives from trying to dismantle them.)

“That family planning programs reduce fertility is well-established,” researchers wrote. “This fact, however, is insufficient as evidence that family planning programs positively affect women’s socioeconomic opportunities. We now provide that crucial evidence.”

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