The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Demography See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. We investigate hypotheses about dynamic processes in these behaviors during early adulthood in order to shed light on persisting racial differences in rates of unintended pregnancies in the United States. We find that net of other sociodemographic characteristics and adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy, black women spent less time in relationships and had sex less frequently in their relationships than white women, but did not differ in the number of relationships they formed or in their frequency or consistency of contraceptive use within relationships.
Black women were more likely to use less effective methods for pregnancy prevention e. And although the most effective method for pregnancy prevention—long-acting reversible contraception LARC —was used more often by black women than white women, LARC use was low in both groups.
In addition, black women did not differ from white women in their number of discontinuations or different methods used and had fewer contraceptive method switches. Further, we find that net of race and adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy, women from more-disadvantaged backgrounds had fewer and longer and thus potentially more serious relationships, used contraception less frequently but not less consistently , and used less effective methods condoms than women from more-advantaged backgrounds.
On average, black women have their first baby much earlier than white women at age Although teen pregnancy rates have declined dramatically among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States since their peak in the early s Kost and Henshaw , black teens have a pregnancy rate that is nearly three times higher than that of white teens Martinez et al. Among women of all ages, the unintended pregnancy rate for blacks is more than twice that of whites Finer and Zolna , as is the percentage of unintended births Mosher et al.
In this study, we investigate the role of two important proximate determinants of pregnancy—sex and contraceptive use—in producing these black-white differences. We focus on the beginning of the transition to adulthood, from age 18 or 19 through age 20 or 21, which spans a particularly important period of the life course. Although overall pregnancy rates are higher at older ages, unintended pregnancies—which have been targeted for reduction by Healthy People goals in , , and 1 —peak at these ages Finer and Zolna Accordingly, we draw on the life course perspective to conceptualize the links among race, other sociodemographic characteristics, and sexual and contraceptive behaviors.
The life course perspective emphasizes the importance of the timing and sequencing of experiences across the lifespan and proposes that individuals make choices conditional on these experiences and within the constraints and opportunities available to them Elder ; Mayer These behaviors then set the stage for future behavior in adulthood.
However, hypotheses about how sex and contraceptive use change over time are more plentiful than evidence that can actually speak to these questions. For example, researchers have posited that poor women have more serious relationships at younger ages, which contributes to their higher risk of early pregnancy Edin and Kefalas , and that black women discontinue their contraceptive methods more frequently than other women Hammerslough ; Trussell and Vaughan Empirically testing these and other similar hypotheses requires dynamic data on sex and contraception use over time.
The present study contributes to our understanding of these proximate determinants of pregnancy among young women in two important ways.
First, we developed a rich set of measures integrating the relationships, sexual intercourse experiences, and contraceptive use of to year-old women over the first year of the RDSL study. Second, because data were collected weekly, we are able to examine changes in sexual and contraceptive behaviors over partners, across relationship length, and by contraceptive method and consistency. This rich set of data allows, for the first time, an investigation of how race and other sociodemographic characteristics—both separately and in tandem—are related to dynamic pregnancy-related behaviors.
This research capability is important because sex and contraceptive use vary substantially across other sociodemographic factors e. Background Adolescence and the transition to adulthood is a time of many persisting black-white differences in sex and contraceptive behaviors.
Black young people [are more likely to have had sexual intercourse, to have initiated sexual activity at earlier ages, and to have had multiple sexual partners in their lifetime than white young people Cavazos-Rehg et al. Contraceptive non-use is higher among black young people than white young people; and among users, black young people are less likely to report highly effective methods e.
We hypothesize that three broad sets of factors may lead to these black-white differences in sex and contraceptive use: Family and Early-Life Experiences Compared with their more-advantaged counterparts, young women from disadvantaged backgrounds e.
The research literature has suggested that 1 young women see their mothers or women in their neighborhoods as role models and imitate their behavior Axinn and Thornton ; Brewster ; Newcomer and Udry ; Thornton and Camburn ; 2 the often lower levels of parental supervision in disadvantaged households permit earlier and riskier sexual behavior Meade et al.
Black women are more likely than their white peers to experience these sociodemographic disadvantages given that they are more likely to grow up with younger mothers, more family instability, and lower family income Browning and Barrington This notion is supported by an empirical study of young black women who themselves said that gender imbalance was a reason they tolerated refusal to use condoms and nonmonogamous sexual behavior in their male partners Ferguson et al.
Also, some evidence has suggested that even though black women have sex earlier than their peers, they have more negative attitudes about sex Barber et al. Black young people are at a much higher risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection STI than their white peers CDC , partly because of higher rates of concurrency and more assortative mating than other racial groups Hamilton and Morris ; Laumann and Youm Religiosity may have a differential racial impact on both young sex and contraceptive use.
In the United States, black young people grow up in more religious families than their white counterparts, with the vast majority attending historically black churches e. Religious doctrine generally opposes premarital sex, and religious young people are more likely than those who are not religious to delay first sex, avoid premarital sex, and have fewer sexual partners Manlove et al.
Religious doctrine also tends to be negative toward contraception, but evidence is mixed about whether religiosity affects contraceptive use among those young people who have sex Manlove et al. Economic Opportunity and Attainment Because of higher rates of poverty, lower-quality early education, greater labor market discrimination, and residence in more-disadvantaged neighborhoods, black women tend to have less education, lower employment rates, and fewer opportunities for economic attainment than white women Avery and Rendall ; Conley ; Isaacs ; Oliver and Shapiro ; Orr ; Proctor and Dalaker The uncertainty and instability endemic to concentrated poverty Gottschalk and Moffitt ; Western et al.
Young women with these experiences may seek out romantic relationships as an escape from a harsh life Cavanagh et al. Edin and Kefalas described poor young women who perceive potential stability in a path of early sex, lack of contraception, and early parenthood.
And Burton and Tucker described this unreliability and insecurity in the lives of poor African American women—intermittent, low-wage employment, and few alternatives e. Poverty-related structural disadvantages in black neighborhoods—such as lower-quality schools, fewer churches, fewer community centers or associations, and generally less-cohesive local networks—may contribute to so-called ghetto-related behaviors, including teen and nonmarital pregnancy, among residents Anderson ; Wilson Neighborhood economic conditions of blacks explain a substantial amount of race-based variance in nonmarital pregnancy South and Baumer and attitudes related to early sex Browning and Burrington Poor women may also perceive lower potential for education and careers, which would reduce their opportunity costs for having early sex and unprotected sex.
An in-depth study of class and sexual behavior among college women found that young women from more-advantaged social backgrounds, who also had higher academic aspirations, delayed serious relationships and pregnancy in explicit recognition that their opportunity costs were high Armstrong and Hamilton These strong preferences for delaying childbearing and marriage translate to contraceptive vigilance, given that the vast majority of young women have had sex by their early 20s Finer and Philbin Legacy of Eugenics Although poverty may affect contraceptive use, given that poor women are less likely to have insurance 3 Ebrahim et al.
Previous research has uncovered significant race differences that are not fully explained by economic factors e.
At its inception, the U. The massive forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women between and was funded by a U. The involuntary sterilization of women receiving public assistance in the United States has been publically documented as recently as the s Boonstra et al.
More recent studies have also documented the persistence of these ideas Thorburn and Bogart The question of whether poor women should bear children is at the heart of some ongoing welfare debates e. Provider bias in contraceptive counseling Dehlendorf et al.
We expect these beliefs and experiences to translate to lower rates of contraceptive use among black women and also translate to particular avoidance of methods that require interaction with a health care provider e. Hypotheses There are multiple aspects of sex and contraceptive use. Sexual behavior encompasses the number of distinct sexual partners and frequency of sexual intercourse.
Contraceptive behavior includes use of any method, consistent use, and the effectiveness of the specific method used Kirby Hypothesis 1 Relationships and Sex: More serious fewer and longer relationships and more frequent sex within relationships. Hypothesis 2 Contraceptive Use: Less frequent and less consistent contraceptive use. Hypothesis 3 Contraceptive Method: Less use of highly effective contraceptive methods. Hypothesis 4 Contraceptive Use and Method Instability: More discontinuation of contraceptive use, a greater number of different contraceptive methods used, and more method switches.
Data and Methods Data The RDSL study began with a representative random, population-based sample of 1, young women, ages 18—19, residing in a single Michigan county. The first component of data collection was a face-to-face baseline interview conducted between March and July , assessing sociodemographic characteristics, attitudes, relationship characteristics and history, contraceptive use, and pregnancy history.
The most innovative aspect of the RDSL study design was the second component of data collection—dynamic measurement of current pregnancy desires and pregnancy status, as well as characteristics of current relationships such as commitment level, sexual involvement, and contraceptive use —collected in weekly five-minute surveys over the following 30 months.
The journal component of the survey concluded in January , resulting in 57, weekly interviews. We restrict our analyses to the first 12 months of the study, when response rates were highest. Seven respondents were not included in our analytic sample because they completed only one journal in the first 12 months of the study. Because our study investigates black-white differences, we also excluded 97 respondents who did not identify as non-Hispanic black or non-Hispanic white see description of race in Measures section.
This left respondents who contributed 25, weekly interviews in total. One major contribution of the RDSL data is that we measure sexual and contraceptive behaviors in much more detail than did past surveys, allowing us to better understand which particular facet of these behaviors may explain race differences in unintended pregnancy: Similarly, we consider not only whether any contraception is used but also the method, method switches, method discontinuation, and so on.
Because we investigate multiple outcomes, the analytic sample varies by outcome. For instance, respondents are at risk of using contraception to prevent pregnancy only if they are having sex. The specific analytic sample for each outcome is described in more detail in the next section.
Measures Individual Characteristics Table 1 presents the distributions of race and other sociodemographic characteristics included in the models, among the full sample and separately by race.
Race was measured with the following question: Please select one or more groups: The results presented in this article were comparable with those that included the remaining non-Hispanic groups either with whites or as a separate category.