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Expanded access to contraceptives led to increased high school graduation rates in Colorado

Study of Colorado Family Planning Initiative
Baby with toys
Posted at 7:22 AM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 17:32:09-04

A new University of Colorado Boulder study finds high school graduation rates increased in Colorado when access to birth control was expanded.

Researchers studied the impact of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which funded family Title X family planning clinics from 2009 to 2015. A $27 million grant allowed the clinics to provide free contraception to more young women.

During that time frame, births among 15- to 19-year-old women in Colorado fell by 20%, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But CU Boulder researchers wanted to dig deeper to find out if access to birth control affected young women’s other choices in life.

“Having that baby when they're teenagers may not actually be the thing that derails them,” said Amanda Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at CU Boulder and one of the study authors.

Stevenson said giving birth in high school, on its own, isn’t the best predictor of whether a woman will earn a high school diploma. That’s because teenagers who give birth are more likely to have other conditions in their lives that decrease the likelihood of high school graduation.

By controlling for these factors, researchers were able to conclude and additional 3,800 Colorado women born between 1994 and 1996 received a high school diploma as a direct result of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. Graduation rates among all women improved, and Hispanic women saw an even greater increase. The research found their graduation rate rose from 77% to 87%, with about 5% of the increase directly because of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative.

Stevenson said those numbers were more significant than they expected.

“It’s not just that young women are averting births and that's what's making them more likely to graduate from high school. We know from decades of social science research that when people feel greater control and autonomy over their futures, they're more likely to invest in their own — what we call human capital — their own educational pursuits,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said the team is also going to be presenting research on the impact the Colorado Family Planning Initiative had on college completion.