This past summer, two Guttmacher Institute researchers published a study entitled “Exploring Men’s Birth Intentions” in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. It analyzed how likely — from the father’s perspective — that their partner’s pregnancy was either intended, mistimed, or unwanted. It also looked at the attitudes of fathers when their child was born. The study was thorough and rigorous. The authors used the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG) which gave them a nice dataset of over 2900 births to analyze. They were also able to hold constant a range of demographic variables.
Not surprisingly, married men were more likely more than single men to report that a pregnancy was intended – as opposed to mistimed or unwanted. This finding held for all racial groups. Overall, 74 percent of the pregnancies reported by married men were intended, as opposed to 49 percent for cohabiting men and 25 percent for single men.
Not surprisingly, older cohorts of men were more likely to report that a pregnancy was intended. Also men with a higher level of formal education were also more likely to indicate that a pregnancy was intended.
Fathers were usually very happy when their child was born. When fathers were asked to rate their level of happiness on a 1-10 scale — with 10 being the most happy – sixty two percent of births received a 10 on the happiness scale. However, there were some disparities based on whether or not the pregnancy was intended. Eighty-two percent of men whose pregnancies were intended rated the birth of their child a 10 on the happiness scale. This is compared to 31 percent of men who reported the pregnancy as mistimed and 18 percent of men who reported the pregnancy as unwanted
Overall, the lesson was clear. Fathers tend to be happier about a birth when the pregnancy was intended – and pregnancies are more likely to be intended when a couple is married. Oddly enough this lesson appears somewhat lost on the Guttmacher researchers. In their conclusion, they discuss “identifying ways of strengthening men’s ability to control their own reproduction without undermining the ability of women to control their lives.” They also mention finding better ways to provide reproductive health services to men. However, a far better way to ensure that a higher percentage of pregnancies are intended and that fathers are happier would be to discourage sexual activity outside of marriage. Such ideas, however, never merit a mention in Guttmacher studies.