Population Matters

Fifty Years of “The Pill”

May 11th, 2010

This year Mother’s Day coincided with the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill.  To say the pill has changed women’s lives is an understatement.  The pill was the first birth-control method that a woman could take without a man’s participation.  It has helped women advance in their careers and education, and has enriched their lives by giving them the power to make choices in their fertility and reproduction.

Time magazine this week writes:

By the 1970s the true impact of the Pill could begin to be measured, and it was not on the sexual behavior of American women; it was on how they envisioned their lives, their choices and their obligations. In 1970 the median age at which college graduates married was about 23; by 1975, as use of the Pill among single women became more common, that age had jumped 2.5 years. The fashion for large families went the way of the girdle. In 1963, 80% of non-Catholic college women said they wanted three or more children; that plunged to 29% by 1973. More women were able to imagine a life that included both a family and a job, which changed their childbearing calculations.

The pill has helped to lower the average family size, which has gone from 3.6 children in 1960 to 2.1 today.  After the inception of the pill, women slowly stopped identifying themselves as housewives and began moving into the workforce.  In 1970, 70% of women with children under 6 were at home, with 30% working.  Today, it’s the reverse.

Time also writes that although Title IX enacted in 1972 helped end discrimination against women in education, the pill played a large role in getting colleges and graduate schools to enroll more women.  Universities were no longer rejecting applicants for fear they would have to drop out due to pregnancy.

The pill has given way to numerous methods of birth control.  Women today do not have to remember to take a pill every day.  They now have a variety of different options, some offering more permanent protection against unwanted pregnancies.

But we still have a long way to go.  The U.N. estimates that there are over 200 million women worldwide today who want to avoid a pregnancy, but are not using a modern method of contraception.  Even here in the U.S., half of all pregnancies are still unintended.  The LA Times writes that this hasn’t changed since 1994, and that the U.S. rate of unintended pregnancy surpasses many other developed countries.  For some in the U.S. “the pill remains unaffordable and inaccessible.”

Women everywhere should be able to control their own fertility.  Girls need comprehensive sex education, and women need access to safe and affordable contraceptives.  Both domestically and abroad, the  U.S. government needs to increase funding for family planning and support efforts aimed at improving the status of women.  That would be the best Mother’s Day gift of all.

Posted by Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate

2 Responses to “Fifty Years of “The Pill””

  1. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    Is open discussion of human population dynamics the last of the last taboos?

    In 2001 a peer-reviewed, lead article, Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply, was published in the journal, ENVIRONMENT, DEVELOPMENT and SUSTAINABILITY. The scientists who wrote the paper are Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel.

    During the last “lost” decade virtually every expert in the field of population biology and demography has assiduously ignored this new, apparently unanticipated and certainly unwelcome research.

    Perhaps a new day is dawning when it is permissible to speak openly about “the last taboo”.

    The willful denial of what could somehow be real usually results in dangerous matters being made even worse because any chance of responding ably to a challenge is spoiled by the absence of the science necessary for making sound judgments regarding the challenge.

    Please consider that the science of human population dynamics is “the last of the last taboos” because the growth of the human population on Earth in our time is occurring on a scale so gigantic that humanity, life as we know it and the integrity of Earth is being threatened by the unbridled, skyrocketing increase of human mass.

    Once the measure of this proverbial “mother” of all global challenges is taken, it will be possible for leaders of the human community to find ways of reasonably addressing and sensibly overcoming any threat to human wellbeing and environmental health that are based upon universally shared, humane values.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  2. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    Is a “spiral of silence” effectively vanquishing open discussion regarding scientific evidence of human population dynamics? Perhaps the last of the last taboos is human population dynamics.

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