How Access To Contraception Benefits The Economy

Rush Limbaugh has been on a several day long sexist tirade against Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress on the Obama administration’s proposed rule requiring employers to provide contraception coverage in their health plans. Limbaugh’s misogynistic attacks have earned him the condemnation of 75 Democratic lawmakers and lost him the support of at least four advertisers.

Conservatives have tried to frame the debate over the contraception rule as one of religious freedom, while progressives have countered that it’s simply about women’s health. However, as New Deal 2.0’s Bryce Covert noted, providing access to contraception is also simply good economic policy:

Research consistently demonstrates a link between decreased fertility thanks to contraception and increased female employment. And right on cue, women, freed up from unwanted child bearing and child rearing, consequently flooded the workforce after the pill became widely accessible. In 1950, 18 million women were in the workforce. By the 1980s, the pill’s impact had had such an effect that 60 percent of women of reproductive age were employed. By 2000, the ranks of women in the workforce had more than tripled since the ’50s, rising to 66 million. Overall, from 1970 to 2009 women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to almost half of them.

This change has had a significant impact on women’s lives and families, the fallout of which is still reverberating throughout the culture wars. But the impact on our economy is easy to quantify. The private sector has long recognized this fact: consulting giant McKinsey explains that without the huge increase in women’s workforce participation since the 1970s, “our economy would be 25% smaller today — an amount equal to the combined GDP of Illinois, California and New York.”

According to the Economist, since the 1970’s, “back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the employment of extra women has not only added more to GDP than new jobs for men but has also chipped in more than either capital investment or increased productivity.”

And then, of course, there are the health care savings that come with contraception. Nationally, every dollar spent on family planning saves $3 in Medicaid costs. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “every $1 spent on public funding for family planning saves taxpayers $3.74 in pregnancy-related costs.” When California spent $400 million on family planning services in 2002, “$1.1 billion was saved in public funds that would have been spent on medical care, income support, and social services through averting pregnancies up to age two, and $2.2 billion up to age five.”