Fertility and family planning in the United States: Insights from the National Survey of Family Growth

W. D. Mosher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A review of about 50 studies based on the 1982 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) illustrates the ways in which the survey sheds new light on trends and differentials in such areas as fertility, contraceptive use, infertility and the use of family planning services in the United States. The total fertility rate declined by nearly 50 percent between 1960 and 1973, from 3.6 to 1.9 births per woman, and changed little from then until 1982. It would appear that growing use of the pill, the IUD and sterilization - but principally the pill - is the prime factor in the dramatic decline in unwanted and mistimed births among married couples. Their increasing reliance on sterilization between 1973 and 1982 reduced the proportion of unwanted births at ages 35 or older by half, but had little impact on overall birthrates because only about five percent of all births occurred at those ages in 1981. Although overall fertility has declined, the rate of premarital pregnancy has risen since the early 1960s. Research based on the NSFG suggests that this is a result both of the rapid increase in the percentage of women who have premarital intercourse and of the increasing length of exposure to premarital pregnancy. The latter trend is probably related both to earlier intercourse and to delayed marriage. Despite the increasing levels of premarital exposure, however, there was actually a decline in teenage birthrates in the 1970s, which was due in part to the rising abortion rates among teenagers. Finally, although racial differences in fertility have narrowed, black women still have higher fertility than whites. The 1982 NSFG data suggest that four factors are principally responsible for the higher birth-rates of black women: Blacks begin having intercourse earlier than whites; black women are one-third less likely to use contraceptives at first intercourse; they are more likely to be currently exposed to the risk of unplanned pregnancy and not using a method; and they have higher pregnancy rates when they are using no contraceptives or less-effective methods, such as the condom, rhythm and withdrawal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-217
Number of pages11
JournalFamily Planning Perspectives
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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