Aims: To examine whether unemployment and partnership affects pregnancy, live births and terminations among young Australian women. Unemployment has conventionally been used in epidemiological studies to examine the health effects of loss of opportunity, material resources and satisfaction associated with work. During welfare reform in the 1990s it was argued that unemployment and associated welfare receipt could influence reproductive choice.
Design: As part of the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health, information on employment, contraceptive use and pregnancy, live births and terminations was obtained at two time points. Information on partnership, age, parental education, and area economic resources was also obtained. The sample included 9683 women aged 18-23 years in 1996 (time 1) and 2000 (time 2).
Analysis: Logistic regressions were conducted to assess the relationship between unemployment and contraceptive use at time 1 and the impact of unemployment at time 1 on pregnancy, live births and terminations at time 2. Analyses accounted for partnership, significant differences in contraception, age, parental education and area economic resources.
Results: Despite the absence of differences in overall rates of contraceptive use, rates of pregnancy and live births among young unemployed women were higher than rates among employed women. These differences became non-significant when differences in the need to use contraception and oral contraceptive use were taken into account. There were no differences in terminations due to unemployment overall but partnered unemployed women were more likely to have a termination than other women.
Conclusions: The study did not support the notion that being unemployed provided incentives for single motherhood. However excess terminations suggest that unemployment might provide disincentives to continuing pregnancies among partnered and unemployed women. More detailed examination of contraception and partnership may be key in unraveling inconsistencies in past research.