The Power of the Pill for the Next Generation
In this paper we ask how the diffusion of oral contraception to young unmarried women affected the number and maternal characteristics of children born to these women. Using census data, we find that early pill access led to an increase in the share of children whose mothers were married, college-educated, and had professional occupations. The pill's effects on the average mother are different from the pill's effects on the average woman, and the effects of the pill on maternal characteristics are in some instances different from the effects of abortion. We investigate the mechanisms by which the pill led to these differential effects and find that access to the pill led to falls in short-term fertility rates for young women and led to decreases in lifetime fertility at the intensive and extensive margins. The impacts of the pill on household characteristics are thus associated with retiming of births, changes in the characteristics of potential mothers, changes in which women become mothers, and by reductions in completed family size. Finally, while the pill affected maternal characteristics differently than abortion, we find suggestive results that availability of the pill lowered abortions among young women.
Published: February 2012, Vol. 94, No. 1, Pages 37-51 Posted Online January 30, 2012. (doi:10.1162/REST_a_00230) © 2011 The President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology