Context: Current definitions of pregnancy intention that are useful at aggregate levels are weak at the individual level. This is especially true in social contexts where childbearing and pregnancy often occur within casual or transient relationships.
Methods: Extensive data on lifetime partnerships and sexual behaviors, including pregnancies and births, from 250 low-income women who had experienced a total of 839 pregnancies are used to explore correlates of intention to conceive, as well as the extent to which women attribute their intentions to a current partnership.
Results: Some 57% of reported pregnancies were unintended. Overall, 21% of the women had not wished to conceive at least one of their pregnancies with the partner who impregnated them; that proportion rose to 33% among women who had had only unintended pregnancies. Even among women who had had no unintended pregnancies, 18% had had at least one conception that they had not wanted with their partner at the time of conception. Women were less likely to say they had not wanted to conceive with a particular partner if they were living with that partner than if they were not. The likelihood of not having wanted a pregnancy with a given partner rose with the lifetime number of serious partners. Pregnancies that were not wanted with a particular partner were more than twice as likely to end in abortion as were those that were (33% vs. 14%).
Conclusions: Among these women, the desire to avoid childbearing relates more to the couple involved in the conception than to abstract notions of completed family size. It would therefore be useful to include items pertaining to partner relationships in future studies of pregnancy intention.