Reason # 4: Fertility Awareness is a remedy to women and children’s poverty
When I think of poverty, I think of the tall, middle-aged African-American lady at the counter of a convenience store who I talked with briefly last week. She was eating bits of lunch while running the cashier in the middle of a 12-hour day with no break. I think of the fact that the average Texas private sector worker has only $32,028 in a retirement account, when 10 years annual salary is recommended to retire. I think of the increase in children’s mental illness and suicides, and of broken families.
Public policymakers in the past 30 years have made contraception an integral part of anti-poverty programs. Health programs for low-income women in the US massively promote artificial birth control methods and strive to make them mostly free. It is even more evident in the high visibility birth control campaign sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in developing countries. For a number of reasons, it hasn’t worked in the US. Conversely, I will argue that the practice of Fertility Awareness is a much more effective tool to fight poverty than artificial methods.
How massive use of contraception brought about more poverty
The logic of contraception advocacy as a remedy to poverty is based on simple logic: give poor families more control of their family size and they will have more disposable income and time. Women will be able to access education and make more money. Their children will get more attention and better care (reduce child abuse, etc…). It sounds pretty straightforward.
It didn’t work that way in the US in the past 40 years, at least for the poor. In 1973, the poverty rate was 11.1% or 23 million individuals[i]. In 2015, 43.1 million people lived in poverty, a 13.5% rate[ii], one percentage point higher than in 2007. The net worth of the 20% poorest household in the US has gone from -$900 in the year 2000 to -$6,000[iii] today. The percentage of households with a negative net worth climbed from 15.5% in 1983 to 21.8% in 2013[iv]. This despite a major increase in education levels[v]. The worst off are children and single mothers.
Brilliant economist and Nobel Prize winner George Akerlof sounded the alarm in the late 1990s. He was trying to understand the enormous increase in out-of-wedlock births since the 1960s. These rates have grown dramatically: from 6% in 1960 to 40% today. What he realized and reported was that contraceptive technology was responsible for this change as “the contraceptive revolution was associated with an increase in abortion and illegitimacy.”
Contraceptives also made it far less necessary for men to commit to long term relationships and more difficult for women to find a suitable lifelong partner. It’s now more likely men and women will have multiple sex partners before and during marriage, making their relationship more fragile and increasing the rates of divorce.
Economist Tim Reichert[vi] explains that since women have less choice of a mate interested in getting married, they settle for less, which in turns leads to more divorces later, often initiated by women.
Data supports these statements. The marriage rate among 25- to 34-year-olds has decreased 13 percentage points in the past 13 years and there is no end in view. The share of never-married has gone from 35% to over 50% since 2000. The number of divorces per 1,000 women 15 and older went from 9% to 20%.
And family stability is at the heart of this crisis. In an extensive presentation, Dr. Bradford Wilcox director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia[vii] reports that the median net worth of U.S. adults is $66,000 for married individuals and $35,000 for those divorced and never-married. He also quotes the Brookings Institute saying that “virtually all of the growth in child poverty in the United States since 1970 can be attributed to the retreat from marriage.” He also notes that Harvard Sociologist Robert Sampson claims that “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictors of … urban violence across cities in the United States.”
“The contraceptive revolution has resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth and power from women and children to men,” Mr. Reichert writes. [viii]
How is fertility awareness changing the picture?
I am not in a place to make an argument at the macro-economic level, something like: massive adoption of fertility awareness by women will result in a change in poverty rate by x%. There are too many factors at play, such as education, debt levels, the role of the state and the economy, the deep change in culture concerning sex and marriage. At least I don’t have the tools to show that.
However, we can argue that at a micro level, that of the family, fertility awareness can have a considerable impact. Here is how.
In this article, the author presents several authoritative reports showing that a stable family structure with both biological parents fares much better than others families: “In the words of Princeton University and the left-of-center Brookings Institution ‘most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes.’”
He also quotes Brad Wilcox who “found that states with more married parents do better on a broad range of economic indicators, including upward mobility for poor children and lower rates of child poverty.”
With that in mind, families need tools that enable parents to stay together. President Obama recognized the importance of fathers in a household. He is quoted here to say: “I am a black man who grew up without a father, and I know the cost that I paid for that. (…) And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off.” That was his motivation when he established My Brother’s Keeper, a campaign designed to help young men of color.
How does Fertility Awareness come into this picture? Fertility Awareness and natural family planning increase the likelihood parents will stay together and be close to their children. Parents who use natural family planning are much less likely to divorce and by far.
A study[ix] by University of Chicago Professor Dr. Robert Lerner with over 500 individuals using natural family planning showed a divorce rate of 0.5%. Another study[x] in Austria with 332 men and 479 women aged 40-49 reported a divorce rate of 3%. While these studies are limited in scope, the difference in rates with the general population, even compared to divorce rates among people of faith, is so large that there is no question about the advantage brought by these methods.
It is further confirmed by the relational benefits reported by users of natural methods. A study[xi] published this year in the journal Frontiers in Public Health was conducted online with 2,560 respondents who were using the Sympto-Thermal Method, reported that majorities of men (74%) and women (64%) felt natural family planning had helped to improve their relationship while less than 10% felt that the use of NFP had harmed their relationship. Similar findings were found in a 2004 Marquette University study[xii] showing that the practice of natural family planning improved communication, mutual respect and mutual ownership of the responsibility of family planning. Well understood natural family planning goes deep in creating solid families.
Here again, there is a crying need for more research, and we hope that as the awareness of the real drivers of economic and emotional poverty increases, as well as the practice of natural methods of family planning grows, more will be done to look at the true impact of these methods on our society.
In the meantime, tell your neighbors. And help us help you do so.
[i] University of Michigan, http://poverty.umich.edu/about/poverty-facts/us-poverty/
[v] In 1970, just one-in-five middle income adults had at least some college education; by 2006, more than half did.
[vi] Bitter Pill, Timothy Reichert, First Things, 2010
[vii] Why Marriage Matters: A View from the Social Sciences W. Bradford Wilcox Department of Sociology University of Virginia & James Madison Society Princeton
[viii] Bitter Pill, Timothy Reichert, First Things, 2010
[ix] See “The Practice of Natural Family Planning Versus the Use of Artificial Birth Control” by Mercedes Wilson
[x] [iii] Natural Family Planning (NFP): The Symptothermal Method (Rötzer) as a Familiy Binding Tool. Results of a Survey among Members of INER. Walter Rhomberg, Prof., MD (1), Michaela Rhomberg, MD (2), Hubert Weißenbach, DI (3), 2008
[xi] Use of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and Its Effect on Couple Relationships and Sexual Satisfaction: A Multi-Country Survey of NFP Users from US and Europe; Matthias Unseld, Elisabeth Rötzer, Roman Weigl, Eva K. Masel, Michael D. Manhart3* Frontiers in Public Health, 13 March 2017 |
[xii] VandeVusse et al, “Couples’ Views of the Effects of Natural Family Planning on Marital Dynamics,” Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 2004, Volume 35, No. 2