25 Percent of U.S. Women Don't Care if They Get Pregnant

Some women just don't care whether they get pregnant and would be fine either way, a new study finds.

Many have thought women of childbearing age fell neatly into one of two camps: those trying to have children, and those not wanting children and so not trying.

Now it turns out about 25 percent of them actually fall not-so-neatly into another camp: They are "OK either way" in terms of getting pregnant. These women who were ambivalent about getting pregnant also tended to be slightly more religious than women who were either trying to get pregnant or not trying to get pregnant.

Researchers are surprised. And the findings could reshape how doctors approach many aspects of women's health care.

"If health-care providers only ask women if they are currently trying to get pregnant and women say 'no,' then the assumption is that they are trying not to get pregnant," said lead researcher Julia McQuillan, professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Clearly, many women are less intentional about pregnancy. Yet this group should be treated as if they will likely conceive and should therefore get recommendations such as ensuring adequate folic acid intake and limiting alcohol intake."

In fact, about half of pregnancies in the United States are unintentional, according to a 2001 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Who wants children

McQuillan and colleagues surveyed nearly 4,000 women ages 25 to 45 who were sexually active. About 71 percent said they were not trying to get pregnant, while 6 percent said they were. And nearly one in four, 23 percent, told researchers they were "OK either way" ? they were neither trying to conceive, nor trying to prevent a pregnancy.

Among women who had no children:

  • 14 percent were trying to get pregnant;
  • 60 percent said they were trying to not get pregnant;
  • 26 percent responded that they were "OK either way."

Among other findings of the study:

  • Women who said they'd be OK either way about getting pregnant also reported the highest number of children they thought would be ideal ? 3.17 on average.
  • 73 percent of the ambivalent women said they would like to have a baby, compared with 34 percent of women who were not trying to get pregnant, and 95 percent of women who said they were trying to get pregnant.
  • Those who were trying to get pregnant were more likely to report that having a child, or another child, was very important to their partner compared with women in the other two groups. Among women who had not yet had children and who said they were trying, 40 percent said it was important to their partner.
  • Half of all women in the survey said their career was very important to them, while 45 percent said the same about having an adequate amount of leisure time. All three groups of women reported similar attitudes about work and leisure.

"This finding dramatically challenges the idea that women are always trying, one way or another, to either get pregnant or not get pregnant," McQuillan said. "It also shows that women who are OK either way should be assessed separately from women who are intentional about pregnancy."

The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Live Science Staff
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