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Born Without a Silver Spoon: Race, Wealth, and Unintended Childbearing


The United States has a surprisingly high rate of unintended fertility, particularly among women of color. Although studies have examined socioeconomic correlates of unintended fertility, the role of economic resources remains unclear. Wealth may provide an important context for whether a birth was intended or unintended. Moreover, staggering racial wealth disparities may contribute to racial/ethnic patterns of unintended childbearing. This study examines the linkages between wealth and unintended first births, drawing on data from the NLSY79 (N = 1508). Results suggest that net wealth is negatively related to the probability of having an unintended first birth, controlling for a host of sociodemographic characteristics. We also use decomposition analysis to quantify wealth’s contribution to racial/ethnic disparities in unintended childbearing. Second only to marital status, differences in net wealth account for 9–17% of racial/ethnic disparities in unintended childbearing. Our results suggest that wealth is a significant and heretofore overlooked correlate of unintended childbearing.

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Fig. 1


  1. We observe women through the end of their childbearing period; the last observed first birth was conceived in 2006.

  2. The NLSY79 collected pregnancy intentions among all pregnancies from 1982 to 1990 regardless of the pregnancy outcome. Beginning in 1992, pregnancy intentions were measured only among pregnancies that resulted in live births.

  3. Although this is sometimes called “net worth,” we use the term “net wealth” to avoid conflating economic resources with connotations of subjective worth.


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Correspondence to Jessica Houston Su.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This study uses publically available secondary data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. The authors did not interview the respondents. This article therefore does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.



See Tables 5, 6 and 7.

Table 5 Moderation analysis
Table 6 Logistic regressions predicting unintended first birth, limiting sample by age
Table 7 Logistic regressions predicting unintended first birth, limiting sample by marital status at conception

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Su, J.H., Addo, F.R. Born Without a Silver Spoon: Race, Wealth, and Unintended Childbearing. J Fam Econ Iss 39, 600–615 (2018).

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