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Bad Economy Blamed for Women Delaying Pregnancy and Annual Check-Up

New Gallup Survey Reveals Disturbing Trends

May 5, 2009

Chicago, IL -- As a result of the economy, women are delaying pregnancy as well as their annual well-woman exam, according to a new Gallup Organization survey conducted for The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). These significant trends attest to the toll that the economy is taking on women's reproductive health, yet it is not clear whether there will be long-term health consequences for women, according to ob-gyns.

The troubled economy is greatly influencing a woman's decision about when to become pregnant and how many children to have. Overall, 14% of women ages 18-44 who were surveyed said that the economy has had an effect on their plans to increase the size of their family; among married women, this increased to 17%. As for delaying pregnancy, 12% of the women surveyed know someone who has postponed a planned pregnancy because of the economy. Nearly one in 10 married women (9%) indicated that the economy was a factor in their decision to postpone a planned pregnancy.

Compared to a year ago, the survey found that one in five women (20%) is more concerned today about having an unintended pregnancy, and similarly, about one in five women (19%) is more conscientious about using birth control to avoid pregnancy. Today, worries are even higher among women who are in a relationship but not married—one-third (33%) are more concerned about an unintended pregnancy, and 32% are more mindful of their contraceptive use so as not to get pregnant.

According to the ACOG survey, two-thirds of women (66%) ages 18-44 report that they have been affected by the country's economy. "While almost all Americans are feeling the pinch, the survey findings clearly indicate that women are feeling the impact in the most personal and intimate areas of their life. Decisions about sex and family planning are at the core of a woman's wellbeing and will have lasting repercussions over her entire lifespan," said Douglas H. Kirkpatrick, MD, ACOG president.

"The economy is also hitting women hard in other ways, including how often they visit the doctor and whether they are taking their medications as prescribed, which is of utmost concern to ob-gyns, often the primary physicians for most women," noted Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, MD, ACOG vice president and senior vice president, chair, and residency director of the department of ob-gyn at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. One in seven women (14%) has postponed an annual ob-gyn check-up because of the economy. Fifteen percent report having cut back or stopped taking some medications because of the cost. "When women are increasingly worried about their financial situation, they are more apt to skip much-needed routine health care and cut back or stop taking their medications. These are disturbing trends amid the tough economy that could have a negative impact on the long-term health of women," added Dr. Hoskins.

The ACOG survey findings are in line with other recent reports on the economy and health care, including a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found that 15% of Americans were cutting pills in half or skipping doses to make their prescription last longer. Also, according to the Kaiser poll, of both men and women, roughly one in four (27%) reported putting off or postponing health care they needed, and more specifically, 19% delayed going to the doctor for preventive care. In a national Gallup-Healthways Well-Being survey released in March, 21% of Americans reported having trouble paying for health care or medicines within the past year.

"As ob-gyns, we understand the challenges our patients are facing in this difficult economy, but we don't want our patients' health to fall through the cracks," said Dr. Kirkpatrick. "An important message, that unfortunately may be overshadowed by today's economic climate, is that the benefits of preventive health care, including the annual well-woman exam, far outweigh the risks of a late diagnosis or avoidable illness. It's really about protecting and safeguarding our patients' health in the long run."

In addition, according to the survey:

  • Two-thirds of women (66%) ages 18-44 report that they have been affected, at least to some extent, by the country's economy, including 18% who say the nation's economy has affected them a great deal and 48% who say they have been personally affected to some extent.
  • More specifically,
    • One in eight women (12%) says they have experienced a job loss as a result of the economy.
    • Six percent of women report having lost their health insurance.
    • Nine percent of women report they have taken on an extra job.
    • One in seven (14%) says they have postponed an annual ob-gyn check-up.
    • Fifteen percent report having cut back or stopped taking some medications because of the cost.
  • The vast majority of women (88%) report that they have health care coverage.
  • Compared to 12 months ago, roughly 10% of women currently using some form of birth control say they are worried they may not be able to afford it. Among women using a hormonal method of contraception, 13% report that they are worried that they may not be able to pay for it.
  • Only 3% of women report having stopped using a birth control method in the past year because they couldn't afford it. Among women currently using a hormonal method, this doubles to 6%.
  • Among women currently using birth control, 12% report that they have switched or changed birth control methods in the past year. Of these women, 14% switched because of the cost (cheaper, less expensive); 18% changed because of a doctor's recommendation; and 38% switched due to health reasons.
  • Women reported that, on average, having a reliable method of contraception is extremely important to them (a "9" on a scale of one to 10).
  • Compared to women who say that they have been affected at least to some extent by the country's economy, those women who say that they have been affected a great deal are more than twice as likely to report that they have decided to limit the size of their family (29% vs. 13%); are more than twice as likely to talk to their partner about having an unintended pregnancy (26% vs. 12%); and are more than three times as likely to postpone a planned pregnancy (15% vs. 5%).

    (Note to Editor: See attachments for related survey charts.)

About ACOG:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is the nation's leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization, ACOG: strongly advocates for quality health care for women; maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members; promotes patient education; and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women's health care. The survey findings were released during the ACOG 57th Annual Clinical Meeting in Chicago, IL.

About the Survey:
Gallup® conducted this online survey on behalf of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists between March 25 and April 1, 2009, among 1,031 women ages 18-44. Results were weighted as needed for race/ethnicity, region, age, education, and marital status. This online survey has an estimated error rate due to sampling and other random effects of plus or minus three percentage points (95% confidence level).