Women’s opportunities to avoid becoming teenage mothers have increased the odds for stable marriages. (Photo: Colourbox.com)

Teens’ right to abortions leads to more enduring marriages

The right to have abortions has improved women’s chances of finding the right man, thus lowering the risk of divorce, asserts a new study.

Contraceptives and abortions have enabled women to postpone the births of their first children and thus raised their general education levels and helped them enter the job market. But other potential effects of the legalisation of abortions have not been fully known or appreciated.

A new study shows that the legal right and better access to abortions has had an unrecognised effect on the women’s welfare: It reduces the likelihood of divorces, according to the Norwegian economist Eirin Mølland.

The study was part of her doctoral thesis which she recently presented at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH).

Avoiding shotgun weddings

The right to abortions helps empower women in deciding when to start having children and who they wish to father them. This applies also to women who do not practice birth control.
Not many decades have passed since women achieved the right to be sexually active without risking having children. This also makes it easier for them to wait with marriage.

Girls who had access to abortions as teenagers got more stable marital relationships, says Eirin Mølland, a researcher at NHH. (Photo: NHH)

“Many young women were compelled to marry the father of their child to avoid social stigma. The opportunity to plan the start of a family has given women the right to avert so-called shotgun weddings,” says Mølland.

Delayed births – fewer divorces

Mølland has analysed access to abortions in the 1960s in Norway and how this impacted women’s positions in the marriage market. Starting in 1964 women could apply to special boards to have abortions and the one in Oslo was more liberal and supportive than ones outside the capital. 

Mølland has compared women who had such access to legal abortions as teenagers with women who didn’t.

Earlier studies have shown that having abortions does not raise the risk of mental problems.

She looked at their possibilities for finding men on the marriage market and how stable a marriage the women ended up with.

The results indicate that marital stability has increased with the initiation of legalised abortions.

“The women who avoided teenage births generally tend to have more stable marriages later in life. Those who had the opportunity to wait with their first child are less likely to get divorced.”

Waiting for Mr. Right

Access to abortions had a distinct effect on women’s choice of fathers for their children. They could be more selective in picking a husband.

“By delaying their first childbirths women increased their chances for finding Mr. Right,” says Mølland.
So this has lowered the risks of divorce. 

“The women get married and they have more stable relationships. The chances of divorce are less than for women who lacked this right in their teenage years.”
Compared to women of the same age

Mølland has studied Norwegian women born in 1945 and 1954.

Norway has allowed women to determine themselves whether they want an abortion (up to the end of week 12 in their pregnancies) since 1978. Abortions were legalised in 1964 but until 1978 all women had to apply for abortions through a special board or panel called an abortnemnd. The practice of such boards was more stringent in some places than others. Women applying in Oslo were more likely to be granted an abortion than women in rural areas.

Mølland compared the access to abortion women among women in Oslo as teenagers with women from other regions in Norway.

“Those who had access to abortions as teenagers reduced the probability getting divorced and they are more often married. They were also less prone to be married at age 25,” explains Mølland.

The divorce rate was two percentage points lower amongst those who had free access to abortions.

Teenage mothers lose out

Many studies have shown a direct correlation between birth control and women’s education levels and participation in the work force. But it is hard to determine whether this is solely because teenagers without contraceptives became mothers earlier or whether other personal or socioeconomic factors are at play.

Even after “morning-after” pills were legalised in 2001, abortion statistics have remained steady in Norway.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no


Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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