Journal of Community Health

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 394–399 | Cite as

The Role of Health Literacy and Numeracy in Contraceptive Decision-Making for Urban Chicago Women

Original Paper


Low functional health literacy and numeracy have known associations with poor health outcomes, yet little work has investigated these markers of health disparity in a family planning population. We used an in-depth qualitative process and 2 literacy and numeracy assessment tools, the REALM-7 and the Schwartz numeracy scale, to assess the role of literacy and numeracy in contraceptive decision-making in an urban Chicago population. Brief surveys and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 postpartum women who had received Medicaid-funded care at an obstetrics clinic in an academic medical center. In-person one-on-one interviews were then reviewed for themes using an iterative process. Qualitative analysis techniques identifying emergent themes were applied to interview data. Literacy and numeracy were assessed using REALM-7 and a validated 3-question numeracy scale. In this cohort of African American (63 %) and Hispanic (37 %) women (median age 26), 73 % had unplanned pregnancies. Although health literacy rates on the REALM-7 were adequate, numeracy scores were low. Low literacy and numeracy scores were associated with interview reports of poor contraceptive knowledge and difficulty with contraceptive use. Low health literacy and numeracy may play an important role in contraception decision-making in this low-income, minority population of women. We recommend further study of literacy and numeracy in a family planning population. Comprehensive contraception education and communication around the contraceptive decision-making process should take place at literacy and numeracy levels appropriate to each individual.


Health literacy Health numeracy Family planning Contraceptive decision-making Health disparities Postpartum 



Dr. Simon was supported by an NIH K12 WRHR (HD050121-04) award during the time this study was performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyNorthwestern University, Feinberg School of MedicineChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Preventive Medicine and Medical Social SciencesNorthwestern University, Feinberg School of MedicineChicagoUSA

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