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Context

High unintended pregnancy rates, and inconsistencies between reported pregnancy intentions and contraceptive behaviors, have been well documented among young U.S. women. Women's beliefs about the benefits of childbearing and motherhood may be related to the apparent disconnect between pregnancy intentions and reproductive outcomes.

Methods

Perceived benefits of childbearing and feelings about a potential pregnancy were assessed among 1,377 women aged 15–24 (most of them black or Latina) participating in a longitudinal study in 2005–2008. The women, who were initiating hormonal contraception at public family planning clinics and did not want to become pregnant for one year, were followed for 12 months. Differences in perceived benefits of childbearing by participant characteristics were examined with linear regression, using a new multi-item measure. Cox proportional hazard regression was used to investigate the association of perceived benefits of childbearing with subsequent contraceptive discontinuation and pregnancy.

Results

Perceptions of the benefits of childbearing decreased with increasing age (coefficient, –0.04), and white women perceived fewer benefits to childbearing than blacks (−0.2). As women's perception of the benefits of childbearing increased, their one-year pregnancy rates increased, after demographic characteristics and feelings about a potential pregnancy were controlled for (hazard ratio, 1.2). Benefits of childbearing were not associated with contraceptive discontinuation.

Conclusions

To better assess pregnancy risk among young women wanting to avoid pregnancy, it may be useful to acknowledge that they hold not only explicit pregnancy desires, but also beliefs about the benefits of childbearing, which may influence sexual behavior and pregnancy.