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Abortion Care is Essential for Economic Mobility

How denying access to Family Planning hurts our nation's economy

As part of Fourth Economy’s focus on Economic Equity we have been researching what communities are doing to support economic mobility. Beyond just citing the disparities that exist in the communities where we work, we want to make sure we are offering specific strategies for communities to adopt to provide increased equity and mobility.

Reflecting on this work, it is disheartening to know that many state governments are at this moment actively working against the best efforts to advance economic mobility in their states. Access to family planning (or lack thereof) is among the top issues affecting the economic stability, resiliency, and upward mobility of low-income individuals in this county.

Since abortion access became protected under the law in the 1970s, women have increased their educational attainment, labor force participation, and earnings.(1) In 1970, just 11% of women aged 25-44 had a college degree – by 2020 that figure had increased to 41%. Men’s educational attainment also increased during this time, but not as starkly (19% to 33% over the same period). Women in management roles also increased - from 17% of jobs in management held by women in 1970, to 45% in 2020. Today 27% of women 15-44 do not participate in the labor force (do not have a job, nor are looking for one) – in 1970 this was a full 55%. (2) These are not arbitrary figures – only with the ability to engage in family planning and delay child bearing (indefinitely in some cases) have women been able to fully pursue economic opportunities like education, employment, and career advancement.

When women leave the workforce even temporarily for the birth and care of a child, their lifetime earning drops (sometimes called the motherhood penalty) compared to working men with children, and women with no children. "A study based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2006, which tracked people’s labor market activities over time, found that on average, men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents, widening the gap." (3) One reason is due to the fact that when mothers take time off from their careers, this loss of continuous work experience and promotions negatively affects their resume, lowering potential future wages. In other words, being out of the workforce even temporarily lessens a mother's life long earning potential.

What’s more, taking any time off for child rearing is generally available only for women privileged enough to either be covered by an employer's paid family leave policy, or to be wealthy enough to rely on spousal or other income while not working. The United States is one of only six countries in the world without mandated paid parental leave (4); meanwhile, the federal FMLA policy that mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for new moms does not apply to the more than 33 million workers, including 15.8 million women, work for companies that have under 50 employees

Visual: More than 1 in 4 women is not covered by FMLA

Moms returning to work must find care for their newborn, either through family or other support, or through paid childcare. For many families, working for a living doesn't cover the costs of childcare. In 2018, 35 million households (29% of all U.S. households) were considered ALICE households (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), meaning that despite working for a living, they earn enough to be considered above the federal poverty level, but not enough to afford basic costs of living, including housing, food, transportation, health care, a smartphone plan, taxes, and childcare. More women are stay at home moms today than were 20 years ago, likely in part due to the steep and rising costs of childcare. "Nearly 3 in 10 American mothers are now stay-at-home moms who don't hold a job outside the home, reversing a long-term decline that hit its low point in 1999. Two-thirds of them are "traditional" married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands, according to the survey, but a growing number are unmarried." This means more women are leaving the workforce to care for children, further shrinking the total labor pool. This is in a time when we are facing the largest worker shortage in over a generation. This is not just a personal issue - it affects our national economy.

Being out of the workforce even temporarily lessens a mother's life long earning potential.

If a mother is forced by these financial realities to quit working and stay home to care for her child, the government safety net in many states will not cover basic living costs, trapping many families in poverty. Nearly 50% of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and almost 50% of those end in abortion. Overall, about one in five pregnancies are aborted every year in the U.S. Of the women who get abortions, 75% are low income. The outcome of the Dobbs ruling means that regulatory power dictating abortion access has been returned to the states, about half of which have in place, or are expected to propose laws, that ban or restrict abortion care. This will make it harder to access abortion care, especially for those without the financial or occupational means to take a day off work to travel to states where abortion remains legal.

Carrying an unintended pregnancy to term has profound economic consequences for women. Fourth Economy and our parent company, Steer have committed to delivering value within our client communities around two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 1. Quality Education and Decent Work and Economic Growth; and 2. Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities. Denying the right to abortion is an exercise in lawmakers exerting power over women, especially poor women, and stifles our prosperity as a nation.



Myers, Caitlin Knowles.

“Homepage | IPUMS.”, .

Miller, Claire. “The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus.” The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2014,

“Paid Family Leave across OECD Countries | Bipartisan Policy Center.”

“US Business Firmographics – Company Size.” NAICS Association,

Cohn, D’Vera, et al. “After Decades of Decline, a Rise in Stay-At-Home Mothers.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 8 Apr. 2014,

Dean, Grace. “The US Is in the Middle of the Biggest Labor Shortage since WW2, Goldman Sachs Says.” Business Insider,

CDC. “Unintended Pregnancy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019,

Crist, Carolyn. “About 1 in 5 U.S. Pregnancies Ended in Abortion in 2020: Report.” WebMD,

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