WEDNESDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Women are postponing pregnancy and having fewer children because of the recession, but just when they need birth control most, many can't pay for it, a new survey finds.
"The recession has impacted much more than people's wallets," said Laura Lindberg, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which issued its report Wednesday.
"Women, especially those that are facing financial difficulties, want to avoid an unintended pregnancy more than ever, and many of them are having difficulties affording their contraception to do this," she said.
For the report -- A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women's Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions -- Lindberg and colleagues recently surveyed 1,000 low- and middle-income sexually active women between the ages of 18 and 39 with annual household incomes less than $75,000.
Almost half of those surveyed (44 percent) said they want to delay pregnancy or have fewer children because of economic concerns. Among those women, 31 percent said they want to delay getting pregnant, 28 percent want fewer children than previously planned, and 7 percent don't want to have any more children.
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) agreed with the statement, "With the economy the way it is, I can't afford to have a baby right now." This sentiment was more prevalent among women who were financially struggling.
"That's a substantial change in attitudes about childbearing," said Lindberg.
The researchers also found that more than one in four women or their partners had lost jobs or health insurance in the past year. In addition, 52 percent said they are worse off financially than they were a year ago.
Over half of the women were worried about their ability to take care of their children. This feeling was expressed by three-quarters who said they were financially worse off, according to the report.
Financial hardship has also led many women to cut back on important health care appointments. Among those who were financially worse off, 30 percent said they had put off a gynecologic or birth control visit in the past year.
Although many women said they want to be more careful about their contraceptive use, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) said they were having a harder time paying for birth control than in the past.
Trying to stretch their limited budgets, 18 percent said they were using birth control less consistently. In addition, 8 percent of the women said they "sometimes did not use birth control in order to save money."
Four percent of women who use birth control pills said they skipped pills, and 12 percent said they had delayed refilling a prescription. Eleven percent of the respondents said they had stopped taking them.
"If you take your pill every other day, your prescription lasts longer, but that's not going to keep you from getting pregnant," Lindberg said.
These practices were more common among the most financially strapped women, the researchers noted.
The findings raise concerns about an increase in unintended pregnancies. "Short-term cost savings have long-term economic and personal consequences," Lindberg said.
But other efforts besides birth control pills to prevent pregnancy may be gaining supporters during the financial crisis. Some women said they are switching to intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and injectable contraceptives, and among women who said they didn't want more children, 46 percent said that they are "thinking more about sterilization."
These changes in attitude and behavior may continue for long after the recession is officially over, Lindberg said. "National economic indicators may take a long time to translate into families' homes and bedrooms," she said.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the "Guttmacher Institute's report confirms what we are hearing at Planned Parenthood health centers across the country." Currently, 17.5 million women are in need of publicly funded family planning services, she added.
Men seem to share similar concerns about making babies during tough times. Earlier this year, doctors around the United States reported a sharp increase in the number of vasectomies performed since the economy soured.
They suspect the trend stems from both a decreased desire to have children because of the expense involved, and a wish to get such medical procedures done before their jobs -- and health insurance -- disappear.
For more information on having a healthy pregnancy, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Laura Lindberg, Ph.D., senior research associate, Guttmacher Institute, New York City; Sept. 23, 2009 report, A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women's Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions; Cecile Richards, president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
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