Over the past two weeks there has been lots of public huffing and puffing over the inclusion (and then exclusion) in the stimulus package of a provision for contraception. Much of the discussion was little more than media hot air, unanchored by anything as weighty as facts. The media discussion was notable for among other things: the absence of experts. To cite one blunder: the shock media gleefully tore into the supposed controversy of a $200 million allocation of taxpayer money for pregnancy prevention, despite the fact that there was no $200 million allocation of taxpayer money for pregnancy prevention. That fable sadly got passed off as fact. In reality, the bill proposed an administrative change that would have saved the states  200 million dollars in five years. (This "mistake" was courtesy of Rep. John Boehner, a friend of the anti-contraception movement.)

In all this, a more important point has been mangled. And that is that family planning has profound economic benefits.

As someone who often writes about the benefits of family planning, I’ve long been struck by the dearth of information on the impact of family planning on economics. I’d once spent some time looking through fifteen years of back issues of the journal Feminist Economics while researching my book on sex and family planning, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. Even there I found hardly any articles on the relationship of family planning and the economy.

Recently though, several economists have stepped forward. Writing for the New York Times blog, Economix, Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, writes about family planning and the economy. Those reflexively attacking the inclusion of contraception in a stimulus bill argued that it doesn’t stimulate the economy. Folbre pushes back, arguing in part for the stimulative effects of public support for family planning. She writes,

"Increased spending on family planning (including contraceptives) would generate about as many direct and indirect jobs as any other health expenditures, and probably more than an equivalent tax cut."

But for Folbre the short-term effects are less important than benefits down the road which is where the real savings (and consequently the real economic stimulus) will come. She explains,

"The long-term benefits include significant reductions in unplanned births and abortions. Teenagers, in particular, would benefit. A research paper by Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine finds that recent state-level Medicaid policy changes reduced births among teenagers by more than 4 percent. The authors offer estimates of the cost per averted birth, which could be compared with the social costs — to children, parents, and society — of unwanted pregnancies."

The brainy people over at the Brookings Institute, economist Isabel Sawhill and researcher Adam Thomas, recently echoed this point. On Feb 5th, in a piece entitled, Keep Politics Away from the Promise of Family Planning, the Brookings researchers concluded that when poor women were given access to contraception it "led to a significant reduction in the number of sexually-active women who have unprotected sex." They used that premise to look at the policy’s economic projections, writing,

"We have incorporated this finding into a cutting-edge simulation model of family formation. Our results suggest that a similar expansion in contraceptive services in the remaining states would reduce the annual number of children born out of wedlock by more than 25,000, would reduce the number of pregnancies to unmarried teenagers each year by 19,000, and would reduce the annual number of abortions to unmarried women by nearly 12,000.

Children in single-parent families are more than four times as likely to be poor as children in two-parent families. Moreover, children who were born as the result of an unplanned pregnancy are less likely to have received adequate prenatal care, are more likely to have a low birthweight, and are more likely to perform poorly in school. Unintended pregnancies are also expensive. A recent study by Princeton University’s James Trussell found that unplanned pregnancies generate $5 billion annually in direct medical costs. Many of these expenses are borne by society in the form of subsidized medical care. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Medicaid family planning provision, if enacted, would result in a net government savings of $700 million over ten years."

These effects are substantial, and while lost on the media, they do have important economic implications.

Folbre also refers to a study conducted by Harvard researchers worth highlighting. Entitled "The Power of the Pill," it argues that the economic benefits of contraception are particularly important for women’s economic futures. The study points out that the surge of women entering college and the professions seemed to happen almost immediately after the legalization of contraception. Goldin and Katz (authors of the Power of the Pill), found that the percentage of all lawyers and judges who are women more than doubled in the 1970s (from 5.1 percent in 1970 to 13.6 percent in 1980) and was 29.7 percent in 2000. The share of female physicians increased from 9.1 percent in 1970 to 14.1 in 1980 and was 27.9 percent in 2000. Similar patterns hold for occupations such as dentists, architects, veterinarians, economists, and most the engineering fields. (It’s worth pointing out that the legalization of family planning appears to have had an impact on the number of female economists we have today.)

Before we enter into the next debate about the virtues of public funding for family planning, a discussion Obama indicates we will have again soon, we need to hear from more economists like Folbre and Sawhill. They should educate the public and media about the stabilizing force family planning plays in our lives and how that impacts society. Without them, it’ll just be Neil Cavuto on FOX News telling us unwanted pregnancy should be encouraged so we’ll have eventually have more people paying into social security. It’s time for the experts to take the wheel.

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  • invalid-0

    As a reproductive health counselor to teens and young adults, I’m disappointed to hear of the short-sightedness of our stimulus package concerning family planning. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I’m also terrified by the potential collapse of FPACT (the program in california that provides reproductive health care to low-income men and women, including birth control). Where is the medical profession’s response to all this? One more example of the medical community allowing the policy parade to pass on by untouched.

  • invalid-0

    Elizabeth, of course this is a “no brainer” to you. Naturally you want to protect your job and as a “reproductive health counselor” you are among the miniscule number of people who actually may insure some job security if these funds were to be included in this bill. True, the purpose of the bill is supposed to be to create jobs, but my taxes are high enough. Its not fair for anyone to expect the taxpayers to protect their job. Not Wall Street, not the banks, not the auto industry and I’m afraid not you either.

  • harry834

    less likely to need (all of a sudden) more income to feed a (larger) family,



  • harry834

    reducing unintended pregnancy –>


    school dropouts will reduce –> teachers will teach more effectively –> teachers will have more job security –> schools keep their teachers –> parents have fewer schools leaving the neighborhood


    reducing unintended pregnancy –>

    fewer workers will take time off –> businesses are more productive –> businesses include infrastructure businesses, so infrastructure will get built more quickly


    reducing unintended pregnancy –> 

    health care costs drop, because fewer children to provide for


    reducing unintended pregnancy –>

    parents get to focus on the children they planned –> children get more attention from less stressed parents –> smarter, more educated, more connected children (connected with parents, community, because parents have time to spend on these children) –> grow up to become smarter, more productive citizens,


  • colleen

    A great many of us recognise this as a ‘no brainer’ and would like to see more reproductive health counselors employed if only to counteract the past decade of tax payer funded liying and overt proselytizing from the religious right.

    Besides, after a decade of ‘abstinence only’ sex miseducation and the overfunded and socially destructive ‘crisis’ pregnancy centers our society is in desperate need of a concerted effort to cut through the proselytizing bullshit and supply young folks with honest information so they are better able to protect themselves and live responsible, productive lives.



  • amanda-marcotte

    Anti-choice nuts want to see the abortion rate go up.  Cmarie has basically admitted as much.  The number one cause of abortion is unintended pregnancy, which is prevented by contraception.  But good luck to women who, because of cmarie and her cohorts’ disgust for contraception, will have reduced access, and therefore more abortions. This is especially true for women who rely on federal aid to cover contraception.  As they’re poor, they’re especially unable to keep having one baby after another and are statistically more likely to use abortion.


    "Pro-life" is, it should be obvious, pro-abortion, in the sense that they’re out there fighting to make sure there’s more.  

  • invalid-0

    Is always such fun to hear from you Amanda. Your comments always demonstrate a careful appreciation of reason and never resort to hysterical outbursts of mud slinging. You and Harry should write a book. Perhaps you could teach basics of logic to pre schoolers and print your favorite slogans into a little red book. Everyone would have to buy one or risk being called a “right wing nut”. Who would have thought that just by securing Elizabeth’s job I can make sure my kids grow up to be “smarter more productive citizens”! Silly me. Here I was thinking that as a parent that was my job!

  • harry834

     did you see my flow chart?

    OTHER families will become more effective parents by being able to choose the number of children. Planning families, planned parenthood, effective parenthood.

    Even if you don’t need family planning, other families will. 

  • invalid-0

    Other families will be able to choose the number of children they have? Why what a radical idea, Harry. You mean condoms and pill might become legal in this country and people will just be able to get them in their local pharmacy? And its only going to cost 900 billion dollars to make this a possibility? My husband was fascinated to learn after ten years of marriage and thirteen years together that I have a “disgust for contraception”, but its hard to argue against this kind of careful reasoning.

  • invalid-0

    realize that we’re about to hit another little baby boom.

    I uncovered some very shocking information the other day almost by accident on Google.

    Take a look at these stats and you’ll see what I mean:

    The charts and graphs don’t lie… there are some very interesting trends happening when it comes to different types of pregnancy-related terms on Google, and we’re in the middle of a big spike.

    Anyway, just thought I’d share that info – I haven’t seen anyone else talking about this.


  • invalid-0

    I don’t see what the big deal is, if they are going to spend money, which they are, this isn’t the worst thing they can spend it on. I think they can do a lot of good with preventing unwanted pregnancies, it can only help out our country, there is too much of it these days and the country and these children are suffering for it.

  • invalid-0

    I interpreted Elizabeth’s post to be someone with knowledge in the area knows the true costs of the “cost-saving” measure, and realized that it was an opportunity lost for real cost-savings.

    But I’m not surprised that you misinterpreted it. All you rightwing people are always so selfish. It’s always “me me me” with you guys, with absolutely no foresight or insight. YOUR taxes, YOUR money….

    You cynically thought she was talking about saving HER job because that’s how YOU think. She was talking about saving the taxpayers millions in future costs.

    I think you rightwing conservatives are the real un-Americans and it’s about time you defend your patriotism. Our great country was born out of selflessness and generosity – to make this a great nation for ALL people (not just you and your little bitty clan unit).

    You disgust me.

  • invalid-0

    Cmarie, you really should think a little before sending such idiotic messages. First, the bailout package does not increase anyone’s taxes, including yours. Second, the purpose of the bill is indeed to create and protect jobs. I will repeat: to create and protect jobs. Got that? It simply doesn’t make sense to agree to this and then immediately whine about the fact that, guess what, it will protect and create jobs. Third, the point of the article, and the “no brainer” wasn’t in fact about keeping anyone’s job, but about preventing the thousands of unplanned pregnancies that will keep all those new mothers and their impoverished kids on welfare, unable to get a job, burning up your hard-earned tax dollars. That, you see, is why it is called a NO-BRAINER: even someone as dumb as you ought to be able to grasp it. Spending a little (and it is a little) money in this way SAVES much more money down the road. And not very far down, either: about 9 months, in most cases.