Contraceptive Access Boosts Women’s Earning Power

One annoying habit of (male) political pundits is a tendency to lump everything related to women’s reproductive health together as “social issues” ignoring the very real economic policy stakes. Betsey Stevenson alerted me to this Martha Bailey, Brad Hersbein, and Amalia Miller paper showing that contraceptive access is an economic question for women on both the cost side and the labor market side:

Decades of research on the U.S. gender gap in wages describes its correlates, but little is known about why women changed their career paths in the 1960s and 1970s. This paper explores the role of “the Pill” in altering women’s human capital investments and its ultimate implications for life-cycle wages. Using state-by-birth-cohort variation in legal access, we show that younger access to the Pill conferred an 8-percent hourly wage premium by age fifty. Our estimates imply that the Pill can account for 10 percent of the convergence of the gender gap in the 1980s and 30 percent in the 1990s.

Things like the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of contraceptive coverage aren’t going to be game-changers on the same scale as inventing the pill in the first place. But at the margin, it and other contraception fights that remain in American politics do make a difference.