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A blessing I can't afford: Factors underlying the paradox of happiness about unintended pregnancy


  • Aiken, Abigail R.A.
  • Dillaway, Chloe
  • Mevs-Korff, Natasha


An unresolved paradox in the measurement and interpretation of unintended pregnancy is that women frequently report feeling happy about pregnancies they also classify as unintended (i.e. they have incongruent intentions and feelings). This study explores the underlying reasons why women profess such happiness and how these relate to their motivations to avoid pregnancy. Between September 2013 and February 2014, semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 27 women (8 white, 19 Latina) selected from a longitudinal study measuring prospective pregnancy intentions and feelings among 403 women in Austin, Texas. Women were selected for interview on the basis of wanting no more children and consistently professing either happiness (n = 17) or unhappiness (n = 10) at the prospect of pregnancy. Interviews were coded and analyzed following the principles of grounded theory. We found that it is possible for women to express happiness at the idea of pregnancy while simultaneously earnestly trying to prevent conception. Happiness at the idea of an unintended pregnancy was explained as the result of deep and heartfelt feelings about children taking precedence over practical considerations, the perception that the psychosocial stress resulting from another child would be low, and the ability to rationalize an unintended pregnancy as the result of fate or God's plan. The major exception to the sincerity of professed happiness was that conveyed as a result of social pressure despite truly negative feelings, predominantly expressed by foreign-born Latina women. Overall, equating incongruence with ambivalence about avoiding conception may undermine the sincerity of women's intentions and their desires for highly-effective contraception. At the same time, unintended pregnancies that are greeted with happiness may have different implications for maternal and child health outcomes compared to pregnancies that are greeted with unhappiness. Identifying which unintended pregnancies are most likely to result in adverse outcomes is a target for future research.

Suggested Citation

  • Aiken, Abigail R.A. & Dillaway, Chloe & Mevs-Korff, Natasha, 2015. "A blessing I can't afford: Factors underlying the paradox of happiness about unintended pregnancy," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 149-155.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:132:y:2015:i:c:p:149-155
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.03.038

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Warren B. Miller & Jennifer S. Barber & Heather H. Gatny, 2013. "The effects of ambivalent fertility desires on pregnancy risk in young women in the USA," Population Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 67(1), pages 25-38, March.
    2. Caroline Hartnett, 2012. "Are Hispanic Women Happier About Unintended Births?," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 31(5), pages 683-701, October.
    3. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2014.301914_6 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Guendelman, Sylvia & Malin, Christina & Herr-Harthorn, Barbara & Noemi Vargas, Patricia, 2001. "Orientations to motherhood and male partner support among women in Mexico and Mexican-origin women in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 52(12), pages 1805-1813, June.
    5. repec:aph:ajpbhl:1997:87:10:1709-1711_0 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Barrett, Geraldine & Wellings, Kaye, 2002. "What is a 'planned' pregnancy? empirical data from a British study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 545-557, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel Schneider & Orestes Hastings, 2015. "Socioeconomic Variation in the Effect of Economic Conditions on Marriage and Nonmarital Fertility in the United States: Evidence From the Great Recession," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(6), pages 1893-1915, December.
    2. Kavanaugh, Megan L. & Kost, Kathryn & Frohwirth, Lori & Maddow-Zimet, Isaac & Gor, Vivian, 2017. "Parents' experience of unintended childbearing: A qualitative study of factors that mitigate or exacerbate effects," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 174(C), pages 133-141.
    3. Cowan, Sarah K., 2017. "Enacted abortion stigma in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 177(C), pages 259-268.
    4. repec:spr:qualqt:v:52:y:2018:i:4:d:10.1007_s11135-017-0574-8 is not listed on IDEAS


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