This study examines black-white and other sociodemographic differences in young women’s sexual and contraceptive behaviors, using new longitudinal data from a weekly journal-based study of 1,003 18- to 19-year-old women spanning 2.5 years. We investigate hypotheses about dynamic processes in these behaviors during early adulthood in order to shed light on persisting racial differences in rates of unintended pregnancies in the United States. We find that net of other sociodemographic characteristics and adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy, black women spent less time in relationships and had sex less frequently in their relationships than white women, but did not differ in the number of relationships they formed or in their frequency or consistency of contraceptive use within relationships. Black women were more likely to use less effective methods for pregnancy prevention (e.g., condoms) than white women, who tended to use more effective methods (e.g., oral contraceptives). And although the most effective method for pregnancy prevention—long-acting reversible contraception (LARC)—was used more often by black women than white women, LARC use was low in both groups. In addition, black women did not differ from white women in their number of discontinuations or different methods used and had fewer contraceptive method switches. Further, we find that net of race and adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy, women from more-disadvantaged backgrounds had fewer and longer (and thus potentially more serious) relationships, used contraception less frequently (but not less consistently), and used less effective methods (condoms) than women from more-advantaged backgrounds.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
More information about the National Center for Health Statistics Healthy People goals can be found online (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/healthy_people/index.htm).
Throughout this article, the “effectiveness” of contraceptive methods refers specifically to pregnancy prevention. We recognize that condoms are highly effective at sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention.
RDSL data collection preceded the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which eliminates co-pays for contraception.
Preliminary analyses included separate categories for two-year college, vocational, technical, or other school versus four-year college, but the results did not differ for the two categories. They are combined for parsimony.
Preliminary analyses included separate categories for full-time versus part-time employment, but the results did not differ for the two categories. They are combined for parsimony.
In all analyses of contraceptive use, we eliminate the small number of weeks in which the respondents were pregnant—less than 1 % of the weeks (N = 895 weeks). Fourteen respondents were excluded entirely because they were pregnant during all the weeks they completed interviews during the first 12 months.
Preliminary analyses included separate categories for each method type, but the results did not differ for the methods included in LARC or for those included in Pill; therefore, they were combined for the sake of parsimony. Weeks in which only an “other” method was reported (e.g., spermicide only) or the respondent did not report the specific method used were excluded from this set of analyses because of small sample sizes (less than 1 % of weeks where any contraception was used (n = 46 weeks)).
Race differences were larger after we controlled for adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy, indicating that black women experience even less sex and partnerships than we would expect, given their adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy.
There were no differences in the race coefficient between models that did not include adolescent experiences with sex and pregnancy and models that did.
Anderson, E. (1990). Streetwise: Race, class, and change in an urban community. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Armstrong, E. A., & Hamilton, L. T. (2013). Paying for the party: How college maintains inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Avery, R. B., & Rendall, M. S. (2002). Lifetime inheritances of three generations of whites and blacks. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 1300–1346.
Axinn, W. G., & Thornton, A. (1996). The influence of parents’ marital dissolutions on children’s attitudes toward family formation. Demography, 33, 66–81.
Barber, J. S., Eckerman Yarger, J., & Gatny, H. H. (2015). Black-white differences in attitudes related to pregnancy among young women. Demography, 52, 751–786.
Bauermeister, J. A., Zimmerman, M. A., Gee, G. C., Caldwell, C., & Xue, Y. (2009). Work and sexual trajectories among African American youth. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 290–300.
Bongaarts, J. (1978). A framework for analyzing the proximate determinants of fertility. Population and Development Review, 4, 105–132.
Boonstra, H., Duran, V., Gamble, V. N., Blumenthal, P., Dominguez, L., & Pies, C. (2000). The “boom and bust phenomenon”: The hopes, dreams, and broken promises of the contraceptive revolution. Contraception, 61, 9–25.
Brewster, K. L. (1994). Neighborhood context and the transition to sexual activity among young black women. Demography, 31, 603–614.
Browning, C. R., & Burrington, L. A. (2006). Racial differences in sexual and fertility attitudes in an urban setting. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 236–251.
Browning, C. R., Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2004). Neighborhood context and racial differences in early adolescent sexual activity. Demography, 41, 697–720.
Burton, L. M., & Tucker, M. B. (2009). Romantic unions in an era of uncertainty: A post-Moynihan perspective on African American women and marriage. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 621, 132–148.
Cavanagh, S. E., Crissey, S. R., & Raley, R. K. (2008). Family structure history and adolescent romance. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 698–714.
Cavazos-Rehg, P. A., Kraussb, M. J., Spitznagelc, E. L., Schootmand, M., Bucholza, K. K., Peiperte, J. F., . . . Bierut, L. J. (2009). Age of sexual debut among US adolescents. Contraception, 80, 158–162.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2012). Sexual experience and contraceptive use among female teens—United States, 1995, 2002, and 2006–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61, 297–301.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC). (2014). Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2013 (Division of STD Prevention Report, December 2014). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Chatters, L. M., Taylor, R. J., Bullard, K. M., & Jackson, J. S. (2009). Race and ethnic differences in religious involvement: African Americans, Caribbean blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 32, 1143–1163.
Chesler, E. (2007). Woman of valor: Margaret Sanger and the birth control movement in America. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Conley, D. (1999). Being black, living in the red: Race, wealth, and social policy in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Copen, C. E., Daniels, K., Vespa, J., & Mosher, W. D. (2012). First marriages in the United States: Data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth (National Health Statistics Reports, No. 49). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Darity, W. A., & Turner, C. B. (1972). Family planning, race consciousness and the fear of race genocide. American Journal of Public Health, 62, 1455–1459.
Dehlendorf, C., Ruskin, R., Grumbach, K., Vittinghoff, E., Bibbins-Domingo, K., Schillinger, D., & Steinauer, J. (2010). Recommendations for intrauterine contraception: A randomized trial of the effects of patients’ race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 203, 319e1–319e8. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2010.05.009
Ebrahim, S. H., Anderson, J. E., Correa-de-Araujo, R., Posner, S. F., & Atrash, H. K. (2009). Overcoming social and health inequalities among US women of reproductive age—Challenges to the nation’s health in the 21st century. Health Policy, 90, 196–205.
Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Elder, G. H. (1995). The life course paradigm: Social change and individual development. In P. Moen, G. H. Elder, & K. Lüscher (Eds.), Examining lives in context: Perspectives on the ecology of human development (pp. 101–139). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Farrell, W. C., & Dawkins, M. P. (1979). Determinants of genocide fear in a rural Texas community: A research note. American Journal of Public Health, 69, 605–607.
Ferguson, Y. O., Quinn, S. C., Eng, E., & Sandelowski, M. (2006). The gender ratio imbalance and its relationship to risk of HIV/AIDS among African American women at historically black colleges and universities. AIDS Care, 18, 323–331.
Finer, L. B., & Philbin, J. M. (2013). Sexual initiation, contraceptive use, and pregnancy among young adolescents. Pediatrics, 131(5), 1–8.
Finer, L. B., & Zolna, M. R. (2011). Unintended pregnancy in the United States: Incidence and disparities, 2006. Contraception, 84, 478–485.
Galton, F. (1904). Eugenics: Its definition, scope, and aims. American Journal of Sociology, 10, 1–25.
Gibson-Rosado, E. M. (1993). The sterilization of women in Puerto Rico under the cloak of colonial policy: A case study on the role of perception in U.S. foreign policy and population control. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University.
Gilliam, M. L., Davis, S. D., Neustadt, A. B., & Levey, E. J. (2009). Contraceptive attitudes among inner-city African American female adolescents: Barriers to effective hormonal contraceptive use. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 22, 97–104.
Gottschalk, P., & Moffitt, R. (2009). The rising instability of US earnings. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23(4), 3–24.
Gutiérrez, E. R. (2008). The politics of Mexican-origin women’s reproduction. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Guzzo, K. B., & Hayford, S. (2012). Race-ethnic differences in sexual health knowledge. Race and Social Problems, 4, 158–170.
Hamilton, D. T., & Morris, M. (2015). The racial disparities in STI in the U.S.: Concurrency, STI prevalence, and heterogeneity in partner selection. Epidemics, 11, 56–61.
Hammerslough, C. R. (1984). Characteristics of women who stop using contraceptives. Family Planning Perspectives, 16(14–15), 18.
Isaacs, J. (2007). Economic mobility of black and white families (Economic Mobility Project report). Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts.
Jencks, C., & Edin, K. (1995). Do poor women have a right to bear children? American Prospect, 20, 43–52.
Jewkes, R. (2002). Intimate partner violence: Causes and prevention. Lancet, 359, 1423–1429.
Kaye, K., Suellentrop, K., & Sloup, C. (2009). The fog zone: How misperceptions, magical thinking, and ambivalence put young adults at risk for unplanned pregnancy (Report). Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://thenationalcampaign.org/sites/default/files/resource-primary-download/FogZone.pdf
Kirby, D. (2002). Antecedents of adolescent initiation of sex, contraceptive use, and pregnancy. American Journal of Health Behavior, 26, 473–485.
Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers, 2007: Research findings on programs to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (Report). Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Kirby, J. B. (2008). Poor people, poor places and access to health care in the United States. Social Forces, 87, 325–355.
Kost, K., & Henshaw, S. (2012). U.S. teenage pregnancies, births and abortions, 2008: National trends by age, race and ethnicity (report). New York, NY: Guttmacher Institute. Retrieved from https://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrendsState08.pdf
Laumann, E. O., & Youm, Y. (1999). Racial/ethnic group differences in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States: A network explanation. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 23, 250–261.
Lesthaeghe, R. J., & Neidert, L. (2006). The second demographic transition in the United States: Exception or textbook example? Population and Development Review, 32, 669–698.
Longmore, M. A., Eng, A. L., Giordano, P. C., & Manning, W. D. (2009). Parenting and adolescents’ sexual initiation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 969–982.
Lopoo, L. M., & Western, B. (2005). Incarceration and the formation and stability of marital unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 721–734.
Malat, J. (2000). Racial differences in Norplant use in the United States. Social Science & Medicine, 50, 1297–1308.
Manlove, J., Logan, C., Moore, K. A., & Ikramullah, E. (2008). Pathways from family religiosity to adolescent sexual activity and contraceptive use. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 40, 105–117.
Manlove, J., & Terry-Humen, E. (2007). Contraceptive use patterns within females’ first sexual relationships: The role of relationships, partners, and methods. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 3–16.
Manlove, J. S., Terry-Humen, E., Ikramullah, E. N., & Moore, K. A. (2006). The role of parent religiosity in teens’ transitions to sex and contraception. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 578–587.
Martinez, G., Copen, C. E., & Abma, J. C. (2011). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth (Vital and Health Statistics Report Series 23, No. 31). Washington, DC: National Center for Health Statistics.
Martinez, G., Daniels, K., & Chandra, A. (2012). Fertility of men and women aged 15–44 years in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth, 2006–2010 (National Health Statistics Reports, No. 51). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Mayer, K. U. (2004). Whose lives? How history, societies, and institutions define and shape life courses. Research in Human Development, 1, 161–187.
McBride, C. K., Paikoff, R. L., & Holmbeck, G. N. (2003). Individual and familial influences on the onset of sexual intercourse among urban African American adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 159–167.
Meade, C. S., Kershaw, T. S., & Ickovics, J. R. (2008). The intergenerational cycle of teenage motherhood: An ecological approach. Health Psychology, 27, 419–429.
Meadows-Oliver, M. (2006). Homeless adolescent mothers: A metasynthesis of their life experiences. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 21, 340–349.
Mirowsky, J., Ross, C. E., & Reynolds, J. (2000). Links between social status and health status. In C. E. Bird, P. Conrad, & A. M. Fremont (Eds.), Handbook of medical sociology (5th ed., pp. 47–67). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mosher, W. D., Jones, J., & Abma, J. C. (2012). Intended and unintended births in the United States: 1982–2010 (National Health Statistics Reports, No. 55). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from http://22.214.171.124/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr055.pdf
Newcomer, S. F., & Udry, J. R. (1984). Mother’s influence on the sexual behavior of their teenage children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 46, 477–485.
Oliver, M. L., & Shapiro, T. M. (2006). Black wealth, white wealth: A new perspective on racial inequality (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Orr, A. J. (2003). Black-white differences in achievement: The importance of wealth. Sociology of Education, 76, 281–304.
Osborn, F. (1937). Development of a eugenic philosophy. American Sociological Review, 2, 389–397.
Owusu-Edusei, K., Jr., Chesson, H. W., Leichliter, J. S., Kent, C. K., & Aral, S. O. (2013). The association between racial disparity in income and reported sexually transmitted infections. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 910–916.
Pavao, J., Alvarez, J., Baumrind, N., Induni, M., & Kimerling, R. (2007). Intimate partner violence and housing instability. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 32, 143–146.
Pearson, J., Muller, C., & Frisco, M. L. (2006). Parental involvement, family structure, and adolescent sexual decision making. Sociological Perspectives, 49, 67–90.
Presser, H. B. (1969). The role of sterilization in controlling Puerto Rican fertility. Population Studies, 23, 343–361.
Proctor, B. D., & Dalaker, J. (2002). Poverty in the United States: 2001 (Current Population Reports, No. P60-219). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Reilly, P. P. (1991). The surgical solution: A history of involuntary sterilization in the United States. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Robert, S. A., & House, J. S. (2000). Socioeconomic inequalities in health: Integrating individual-, community-, and societal-level theory and research. In G. Albrecht, R. Fitzpatrick, & S. Scrimshaw (Eds.), Handbook of social studies in health and medicine (pp. 115–136). London, UK: Sage.
Roberts, D. E. (2000). Forum: Black women and the pill. Family Planning Perspectives, 32, 89–90.
Rocca, C. H., & Harper, C. C. (2012). Do racial and ethnic differences in contraceptive attitudes and knowledge explain disparities in method use? Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 44, 150–158.
Shih, G., Vittinghoff, E., Steinauer, J., & Dehlendorf, C. (2011). Racial and ethnic disparities in contraceptive method choice in California. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 43, 173–180.
Smedley, B. D., Stith, A. Y., & Nelson, A. R. (Eds.). (2006). Unequal treatment: Confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2002/Unequal-Treatment-Confronting-Racial-and-Ethnic-Disparities-in-Health-Care.aspx
South, S. J., & Baumer, E. P. (2000). Deciphering community and race effects on adolescent premarital childbearing. Social Forces, 78, 1379–1407.
Sprecher, S. (2013). Predictors of condom use in first sexual intercourse: A consideration of individual, situational, relational, and cohort effects. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43, E71–E84.
Stern, A. M. (2005). Sterilized in the name of public health: Race, immigration, and reproductive control in modern California. American Journal of Public Health, 95, 1128–1138.
Stubblefield, A. (2007). “Beyond the pale”: Tainted whiteness, cognitive disability, and eugenic sterilization. Hypatia, 22(2), 162–181.
Thorburn, S., & Bogart, L. M. (2005). Conspiracy beliefs about birth control: Barriers to pregnancy prevention among African Americans of reproductive age. Health Education & Behavior, 32, 474–487.
Thornton, A., & Camburn, D. (1987). The influence of the family on premarital sexual attitudes and behavior. Demography, 24, 323–340.
Trussell, J., & Vaughan, B. (1999). Contraceptive failure, method-related discontinuation and resumption of use: Results from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth. Family Planning Perspectives, 31, 64–72, 93.
Vaughan, B., Trussell, J., Kost, K., Singh, S., & Jones, R. (2008). Discontinuation and resumption of contraceptive use: Results from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Contraception, 78, 271–283.
Welti, K., Wildsmith, E., & Manlove, J. (2011). Trends and recent estimates: Contraceptive use among U.S. teens and young adults (Child Trends Research Brief, No. 2011-23). Washington, DC: Child Trends.
Western, B., Bloome, D., Sosnaud, B., & Tach, L. (2012). Economic insecurity and social stratification. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 341–359.
Whitehead, T. L. (1997). Urban low-income African American men, HIV/AIDS, and gender identity. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 11, 411–447.
Williams, D. R., & Collins, C. (1995). US socioeconomic and racial differences in health: Patterns and explanations. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 349–386.
Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner-city, the underclass and public policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York, NY: Knopf.
Wilson, W. J., & Neckerman, K. M. (1986). Poverty and family structure: The widening gap between evidence and public policy issues. In S. Danziger & D. H. Weinberg (Eds.), Fighting poverty: What works and what doesn’t (pp. 232–259). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
This research was supported by two research grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD050329, R01 HD050329-S1, PI Barber), a research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R21 DA024186, PI Axinn), and a population center grant (R24 HD041028) and training grant (T32 HD007339) from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the University of Michigan Population Studies Center. The authors gratefully acknowledge the Survey Research Operations (SRO) unit at the Survey Research Center of the Institute for Social Research for their help with the data collection, particularly Vivienne Outlaw, Sharon Parker, and Meg Stephenson. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the intellectual contributions of the other members of the original RDSL project team (William Axinn, Mick Couper, Steven Heeringa, Heather Gatny), and the National Advisory Committee for the project (Larry Bumpass, Elizabeth Cooksey, Kathie Harris, and Linda Waite).
About this article
Cite this article
Kusunoki, Y., Barber, J.S., Ela, E.J. et al. Black-White Differences in Sex and Contraceptive Use Among Young Women. Demography 53, 1399–1428 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0507-5