The Relationship between Unintended Pregnancy and Women's Mental Health in Later Life: An Exploration Using the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study

Jenny A. Higgins, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Pamela Herd, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Irina Merkuryeva, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Despite ample research on unintended pregnancy (UP), no study has explored UP’s later-life mental health effects on the women who carry those pregnancies. Nor has a study been able to examine these associations prior to the legalization of abortion. We employ the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), an ongoing study of high school graduates from the class of 1956, to assess associations between respondents’ intendedness reports for all prior pregnancies and later-life mental health. Data on pregnancy intention were collected in 1975; at that time, 55% of women reported having had at least one UP; among all UPs, 73% were mistimed and 27% were unwanted. Compared to those with no UPs, women who had at least one unwanted pregnancy were, by their early 50s, more likely to report prior depression, a higher number of depressive symptoms, and higher levels of hostility. Findings held even after accounting for a range of prospective pre-pregnancy confounders.

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Presented in Session 125: Sex, Fertility, and Well-Being