How frangas aid the economy: a brief analysis

Words by Grace Morgan-Cocks

Getting pregnant is expensive. Getting pregnant accidentally can be financially devastating. There is a large diversity of reasons that access to reproductive choice has been advanced by progressive organisations over the past century. Many of them are founded in ethical arguments over the rights of women to assert their body autonomy and choose their destinies for themselves. But, as many studies in developed and developing nations have shown, being able to plan your family (and avoid surprise pregnancies) can help to realise more opportunities and avoid a lifetime of poverty that often continues to resonate generations into the future.

Taking a broad example, it is understood that poorer families generally have more children than affluent ones.[1] It is also well known that children from poorer families receive fewer parental time and resource investments,[2] and are more likely to experience delayed development and health problems, live in more dangerous neighbourhoods, and attend underperforming schools.[3] Children from poorer households are less likely to attend and complete higher education, limiting their earning potential. Consequentially, over 40 percent of children born to parents in the lowest quintile of family income remain in that income quintile as adults.[4] This means that a woman’s inability to plan her family can lead to the impoverishment of her children, well into adulthood. This is true all over the world, but especially in service and resource poor areas. Women who can choose when and if to become pregnant also have more money and opportunities, whether educational or vocational, by delaying the pay gap typical between working mothers and their childless peers, and reduce a woman’s likelihood of relying on public assistance through welfare.[5]

In 2010, it was estimated in the US that a $1.9 billion investment into public family planning and sexual health services prevented 2.2 million unintended pregnancies and 761,000 abortions. Less significantly, this investment created a net saving of $13.6 billion for the public — that is, for every $1 dollar actually spent by the government, they saved $7.06 dollars that would have been spent otherwise. But, in the US, where health insurance is neither universal nor mandatory, subsidised family planning programs only meet 54 percent of the need.[6] Sadly, many women go without critical education and prevention necessary to avoid pregnancy and illness — the consequence of this not only being billions of dollars spent on future welfare and healthcare, but more importantly the suffering and sometimes death of women who weren’t fortunate enough to receive the education and resources they deserved.

We are lucky in Australia to have access to safe, cheap, and effective contraception — many people elsewhere don’t and will be worse off for it. Rationalising the financial gains and losses on what always proves to be a divisive and emotional issue isn’t an attractive argument to pursue. But critically, like Thomas Malthus theorised 200 years ago, poverty and family planning are inextricably linked. Solving one without the other has and will continue to prove futile, and until every person has the resources to plan for their family and their future, tackling poverty will be a losing game.

[1] J.P. 2012, Demography and inequality, The Economist (online), accessed https://www.economist.com/blogs/feastandfamine/2012/08/fertility-decline-demographic-dividend-poverty-and-inequality.

[2] Guryan, Jonathan, Erik Hurst, and Melissa S. Kearney. 2008. “Parental Education and Parental Time with Children.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 22, no. 3: 23–46.

[3] Philip Levine and David Zimmerman, Targeting Investments in Children: Fighting Poverty When Resources Are Limited, (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[4] Pew Charitable Trusts. 2012. “Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility across Generations. www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2012/Pursuing_American_Dream.pdf.

[5] Adam Sonfield et al, The Social and Economic Benefits of Women’s Ability To Determine Whether and When to Have Children, The Guttmacher Institute 2013, accessed https://www.guttmacher.org/report/social-and-economic-benefits-womens-ability-determine-whether-and-when-have-children.

[6] Jennifer Frost et al, Return on Investment: A Fuller Assessment of the Benefits and Cost Savings of the US Publicly Funded Family Planning Program, The Milbank Quarterly 2014, accessed https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2014/10/return-investment-fuller-assessment-benefits-and-cost-savings-us-publicly-funded.