Racial and Ethnic Variation in Unmarried Young Adults’ Motivation to Avoid Pregnancy

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Racial and ethnic differences in unintended fertility are well documented, but mechanisms underlying these differences are poorly understood. To identify the factors that may contribute to such disparities, differences in distal characteristics theoretically linked to unintended fertility—such as the motivation to avoid a pregnancy—need to be identified.


Data on sexual and reproductive attitudes and behavior among a sample of 1,573 unmarried men and women aged 18–29 came from the 2009 National Survey of Reproductive and Contraceptive Knowledge. Ordinal logistic regression analysis was conducted to examine two measures of motivation: one cognitive (perceived importance of avoiding pregnancy) and one affective (predicted feelings about experiencing an unplanned pregnancy).


Seventy-seven percent of young adults reported that avoiding pregnancy is very important, and 34% would be very upset if they were to experience an unplanned pregnancy. In multivariate analyses, the cognitive measure of motivation was not associated with race and ethnicity. The affective measure, however, was: Foreign-born Hispanics would be less upset than whites, and blacks would be more upset than whites, if they were to experience an unplanned pregnancy (coefficients, –1.7 and 0.5, respectively).


Differences in motivation to avoid pregnancy—particularly in predicted emotional responses to an unplanned pregnancy—should be further investigated as a potential factor in Hispanics’ relatively high rates of unintended births. Future research should also examine connections between motivation to avoid pregnancy and reproductive behavior.

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