An unplanned pregnancy can be a very overwhelming experience for a woman or a couple. Whether the pregnancy is a welcome surprise or it’s unwanted, both parents can face tremendous challenges and big decisions ahead.
We’ve compiled 30 important and insightful unplanned pregnancy statistics and facts to learn more about surprise pregnancies. We’ve analyzed official research and in-depth studies to bring only the most accurate and up-to-date facts on this topic.
We’ll cover four fundamental topics, including rates in the United States, percentages by country, effects of surprise pregnancies, and contraceptive failure rates. Keep reading to learn more about how an unexpected pregnancy affects society.
Key Facts About Unintended Pregnancies
An unintended pregnancy is a big shock for women and their partners. Here are five critical unintended pregnancy statistics and facts:
- In 2019, 35.7 per 1,000 women had an unintended pregnancy.
- Surprise pregnancies are least common among women who earn 200 percent above poverty, white women, and married women.
- There are about 121 million unplanned pregnancies globally each year.
- Women who had an unplanned pregnancy have a higher rate of postpartum depression.
- About 33 percent of unplanned births are caused by contraceptive failure.
What Is an Unplanned Pregnancy?
An unplanned or unintended pregnancy generally refers to a pregnancy that was not planned or desired. In many cases, individuals might not want children at all or may not feel ready for them yet.
Unplanned pregnancies include pregnancies caused by lack of birth control, failed birth control, and sexual assault (though these are often categorized as unwanted or rape-related pregnancies).
30 Unplanned Pregnancy Statistics and Facts
Experiencing an unplanned pregnancy is a significant life event, whether the couple or mother decides to continue the pregnancy or terminate it. Dive into an extensive compilation of 30 detailed unplanned pregnancies statistics and facts across four topics.
Surprise Pregnancies in the U.S.
Let’s look at the rates, proportions, and demographics of unintended pregnancies in the U.S.
- Unintended pregnancy rates: 35.7 per 1,000 women experienced an unintended pregnancy in 2019 (1). This was a decrease from 42.1 per 1,000 women in 2010.
- Unintended pregnancies in teenagers: Unintended pregnancy rates for teenage women aged 15 to 19 declined by more than 52 percent from 2010 to 2019.
- Rate compared to other countries: The rate of unplanned pregnancies in America is significantly higher than in many other developed countries (2). On average, half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended compared to about 34 percent in Switzerland (3) and 40 percent in Iceland (4).
- Percentages of unplanned pregnancies: In 2011, there were 6.1 million pregnancies in the U.S. Forty-five percent of these were unintended. Twenty-seven percent were wanted at a later time, and 18 percent were generally ‘unwanted’.
- Rates by race: In 2011, the rate of unintended pregnancy among Black women was 33 percent, 31 percent among Hispanic women, and 17 percent among white women (5).
- Highest surprise pregnancy rates: Surprise pregnancies are most common among women of low income (those with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level). They’re also common in women aged 18 to 24, women who cohabitate, and women of color.
- Lowest surprise pregnancy rates: Surprise pregnancies are least common in college graduates, women who earn at or above 200 percent of poverty, white women, and married women.
- Decreasing rates with age: Older women are less likely to have a surprise pregnancy. The most common age group to fall pregnant unintentionally is women aged 20 to 24. But when you recalculate the outcome to include only sexually active women, women aged 15 to 19 are most likely to have an unplanned pregnancy.
Percentage of Unplanned Pregnancies in the World
You’ve seen the statistics regarding unintended pregnancies in the U.S. Now, gain a global perspective with data on the percentage of unplanned pregnancies across various countries.
- Unintended pregnancy in Bolivia: Bolivia has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancies among low and middle-income countries at 61.71 percent (6).
- Unintended pregnancy in Egypt: Egypt has the lowest rate of unplanned pregnancies among low and middle-income countries at 19.25 percent.
- Worldwide surprise pregnancy rate: The worldwide prevalence of unintended pregnancy in low and middle-income countries is 26.08 percent.
- Overall global unintended pregnancy rate: Between 2015 and 2019, there were about 121 million unplanned pregnancies each year (7). This is about half of all pregnancies, reflecting the global need for better reproductive care and access to birth control.
- Unintended pregnancies ending in abortion: Of the 121 million unplanned yearly pregnancies, 61 percent ended in abortion. From 1990 to 1994, the rate was only 51 percent.
- Unintended pregnancies in the United Kingdom: Between 2015 and 2019, 545,000 pregnancies were unplanned (8). This was about 47 percent of all pregnancies. Thirty-six percent of unplanned pregnancies ended in abortion.
- Unintended pregnancy in women trying to avoid: More than 10 percent of women worldwide who are trying to avoid pregnancy get pregnant unexpectedly each year (9).
Causes and Effects of Unwanted Pregnancy
While some couples welcome an accidental pregnancy, it can be a significant challenge for others. Let’s take a look at eight causes and effects of an unwanted pregnancy.
- Lack of basic human rights: Globally, many women lack basic human rights, including control over their reproductive rights and choices (10). For example, they may not have access to safe and modern birth control. In many places, women also don’t have the ability to reject sex.
- Crisis and conflict: Globally, crisis and conflict are a huge cause of unplanned pregnancies. When a country is war-torn, women typically lose access to birth control as well as experience a rise in sexual violence.
- Improper contraception: In the U.S., the leading cause of unwanted pregnancies is couples not using contraception or using it incorrectly.
- Poverty and disease: Poverty and disease are some of the leading causes of unplanned pregnancy since there is less access to health services (11).
- Maternal depression: Women who had an unintended pregnancy have a higher rate of depression up to one year postpartum than mothers who had planned their pregnancy (12).
- Parental stress: Mothers who had an unplanned pregnancy had higher rates of stress than mothers who had planned their pregnancy.
- Abortion: About 50 percent of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion, making this one of the leading effects of an unwanted pregnancy (13). There are medical, physical, and emotional risks of abortion, especially in areas where abortion is illegal or unsafe.
- Effects on the children: Children who weren’t planned are more likely to be victims of domestic violence or witness violence between their parents (14).
Access to Contraception and Failure Rates
It’s no surprise that unplanned pregnancies are linked to contraception failure rates or a lack of access to birth control. Access to contraceptives varies by state and country, too. Let’s dive into data about access to contraception and failure rates.
- Stopping contraception use: Eighty-five percent of women who stop using contraception become pregnant within 12 months (15). Many of these women stop their contraception because of side effects, difficulty of use, or health concerns. Better family planning support could address these issues before it leads to unplanned pregnancies.
- Lack of contraceptive counseling: A study found that only three percent of women in the Philippines received contraceptive counseling when they wanted to delay or limit pregnancies. Proper family planning counseling could play a huge factor in the prevention of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions in Asia.
- Improved access benefits: Better access to birth control by the age of 20 decreases a woman’s chance of living in poverty (16).
- Patient education for Black women: In the U.S., African-American women are more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy than Hispanic and white women (17). This is likely because many Black women prioritize avoiding birth control with hormones, and therefore, they choose less effective methods — such as the Calendar Method. However, with proper education, Black women are 67 percent more likely to choose long-acting reversible contraception, such as the copper coil, therefore reducing the rate of surprise pregnancies.
- Contraceptive failure worldwide: Birth control failure has a huge impact on unplanned pregnancies and abortions (18). About one-third of unplanned births are caused by contraceptive failure, and more than 50 percent of abortions result from contraceptive failure.
- Failure rates in various methods: Long-acting reversible contraceptive methods (such as an IUD) are the most effective, with failure rates between zero and 1.8 percent. Short-term methods, such as pills or condoms, have an average failure rate of 4.6 percent across countries. Traditional methods, such as the rhythm method or withdrawal, have a failure rate of up to 22 percent.
- Lack of contraception in the U.S.: Of the 3.1 million unplanned pregnancies per year in the U.S., 52 percent of the women were not using contraception (19). Forty-three percent of women were misusing birth control, and five percent were using birth control, but the method failed.
How To Prevent Unwanted Pregnancy
The best solution for preventing an unwanted pregnancy is to use birth control correctly. There are many options, including condoms, the oral contraceptive pill, an IUD, the implant, the injection, and more. Have a conversation with a family planning clinic to discuss your options, preferences, and any concerns you may have.
As for healthcare providers, it’s essential to inform your patients about any reproductive health services you offer. You should also aim to counsel patients, especially young people, about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and dating violence.
About 90 percent of women having sex get pregnant within 12 months when they don’t use contraception, so it’s crucial to use it every time (20). You can get pregnant any time you have sex without birth control, including the first time a person has sex.
If a person has had sex without birth control, the option of an emergency contraceptive is available. Within a few days of the sexual encounter, a person can take something called the morning-after pill, which can reduce the chance of getting pregnant by 75 percent (21). You can contact your doctor or local public health department for more information.