My Research: Unintended Pregnancy, Abortion, and Young Women

I’ve recently made a hard goal: beef up my publication record by publishing eight manuscripts in peer-review journals by this time next year. Outside of work.

Recently, a colleague of mine empowered me to not rely on…others. Others who may already be tenured and apathetic about my professional development, and publish on my own by utilizing the hell out of free public-use secondary datasets. “You know how to analyze data. Just do it.”

A light bulb literally lit over my head. I mean, duh.

An advanced and productive Black woman professor/scholar gave me sound advice on publishing and broke down her method of creating a doable goal-oriented plan.


Reaching this goal of eight publications by next year is certainly a challenge. The publication process can be slow and tedious, but my publication record is my Achilles heel when it comes to marketability as a scholar.

I have to do this.

So, my first task is to revisit old, but viable, analyses. I’ve come back to an interesting analysis I did during the third year of my doctoral stint in which I first tested my idea on unintended pregnancy: whether educational advantages experienced during childhood and adolescence predicts unintended pregnancy in adulthood.

The theoretical motivation for this analysis can be found in my previous research post, which presents a tidier and polished analysis from my dissertation. This analysis from my third year is much more exploratory and a bit of a mess because I was looking at the data from different angles, which helped me to understand it and work through my ideas. Now, with fresh eyes and a more sophisticated understanding of my ideas, I plan to make this analysis into something publishable.

In this analysis, I tested whether indicators of education advantage predicted unintended pregnancy, unintended births, and abortion among a sample of young adult women ages 18–24 years from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). See more information on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health) here.

I examined whether having a college-educated mother, high aspirations to go to college, a mother who has high college aspirations for their children, and living with two biological married parents predicted whether girls reported an unintended pregnancy, and whether that pregnancy resulted in an unintended birth or abortion.

The analysis needs tweaking, and I’m still working on interpretation, but my results are interesting.

One, young women with a college-educated mother and/or a mother who expected them to go to college were less likely to report a pregnancy at all. This is not surprising. A significant literature is dedicated to examining the social, socioeconomic, and health benefits of having college-educated parents. As an indicator, a college-educated mother likely signals a middle-class expectations and social norms that strongly discourage early pregnancy in the face of better future opportunities. Yet, I also find that girls who reported high college aspirations were almost twice as likely to have a mistimed pregnancy. In addition, this group was almost twice as likely to have a mistimed birth and two-and-a-half times as likely to have an abortion. What does this suggest?

This finding, that young women who reported high aspirations for college were more likely to report a mistimed pregnancy and birth, may seem contradictory. One would expect that young women with high college aspirations would avoid pregnancy and delay motherhood, but this suggests something a bit more nuanced. Simply wanting to go to college does not influence pregnancy timing, but rather it influences how women feel about the timing of that pregnancy: too early. Meanwhile, external factors, like parental education or expectations, seem to yield influence on actual fertility timing (less likely to get pregnant).

In addition, young women who reported high college aspirations were more likely to report an abortion. Data strongly suggest that girls and women with middle-class, usually white, backgrounds are more likely to view abortion as a viable option when faced with an undesired pregnancy. Most have better adulthood opportunities, compared to their low-income peers, if they delay motherhood. Young women with high college aspirations may see abortion as the better option in the face of mistimed pregnancy that she considers to have occurred too early, especially if they are well-off.

Some of my more recent work comes from a qualitative project that I conducted on early educational experiences, pregnancy, and motherhood collected from a group of study participants that I recruited from Los Angeles, Atlanta, and a small town in the Midwest. All women said that attending college was a goal while growing up. Whether they reached that goal or not, dependent whether they received the necessary support and resources from their parents and surrounding environment. Women from my sample who attended college and beyond, while growing up, took advanced and college-prep courses, had resourceful and supportive parents (usually both in the same household, but not always) that established day-to-day and global expectations for scholastic achievement, and participated in sports or other extracurricular activities, that required time, money, and resources.

Parents who expected their daughters to attend college have the resources to establish and enforce norms and expectations that encouraged scholastic achievement, extracurricular activities, and high career goals, and discouraged unnecessary social activities, boyfriends and sex, and having children “too soon.”

Not all respondents experienced this type of rearing, however. Those who did not attend college, despite aspirations, did not speak about a more educationally advantaged background.

I’ve since learned more sophisticated quantitative analysis methods, I this first thing is to redo this analysis using those better techniques, like lagging women’s education at the time of pregnancy by two years. The may affect the results. Also, I am re-visiting the literature to think of other interesting constructs and indicators of educational advantage. It may be interesting to look at contraception patterns. Perhaps, increased educational advantage is associated with use of more effective contraception.

I am also open to ideas and questions, so please feel free to comment!