women’s lives 3 – Family planning in women’s lives - unintended pregnancies and pregnancy conflicts (Interim Report)

women’s lives 3 – Family planning in women’s lives - unintended pregnancies and pregnancy conflicts

women’s lives 3 – Family planning in women’s lives

This study provides a comprehensive picture of family planning in the lives of 20–44-year-old women. They were asked retrospectively which pregnancies that occurred during different life phases and under different living conditions were wanted/intended or unwanted/unintended, how pregnancy conflicts were dealt with, and how the decision to carry a child to term or terminate an unintended pregnancy was made. Depending on the age of the informants, the events such as births, marriages or pregnancy terminations occurred at different times in the past (between 1983 and 2012). Further topics looked at by the study were relationships, contraception and the desire for children.


The standardized telephone survey of 4,002 women is representative of the four states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Lower Saxony and Saxony, and was extended with a qualitative interview with 97 women. This is the first time in 15 years that we have empirical data based on a broad population survey of 4,002 women that can explain, among other things, why in times of widely available, safe contraception unintended pregnancies still occur and why pregnancies are terminated. Conclusions about the need for information and advice about family planning are drawn.

This publication presents initial interim results, which reveal a small section of the manifold insight options. The publication focuses on unintended pregnancies and terminations. In-depth results relating to childless women, the desire for children and further aspects of family planning will be published in the concluding report.


A first attempt to explain why and how unintended pregnancies occur, and why they are accepted or terminated

The special feature of the study at hand is that, for all pregnancies that were carried to term, it asked whether they were intended; and that for all pregnancies, whether carried to term or terminated, the life circumstances in which they occurred were captured in a similar and in-depth manner(1). This approach makes it possible to gain insights into what these life circumstances and phases, as conditions for starting/expanding a family, mean for women’s reproductive behaviour. We also asked how education and region influence how the women assess their living conditions and how they shape their lives. To explain why (unintended) pregnancies occur and how they are dealt with, we have to assume a multi-step process, which begins before the occurrence of the pregnancy and ends with the birth or with a termination. Assuming sexual relations, this study asked whether and how, in specific life circumstances,

  • contraception was used more or less consistently;
  • the pregnancy was not wanted, or only wanted later on;
  • the pregnancy was carried to term or terminated;
  • in the event of a pregnancy being carried to term, the women took advantage of pregnancy and family counselling.

The stages of this process are assessed by women in confrontation with social norms, their social environment, the available resources etc.


Notes about the evaluation

The following pregnancy-related evaluations are based on the data set formed from all the 4,794 reported pregnancies (4,427 carried to term, 367 terminated). One woman could be represented with several pregnancies here. In contrast there are the woman-related evaluations, based on the data set of the 4,002 women.


Notes about the translation

While the German term ‘ungewollt’ literally means ‘unwanted’, it does so in the sense of ‘not positively wanted’ rather than ‘positively not wanted’, which is what ‘unwanted’ would mean in English. Hence ‘unintended’ is appropriate. The positive form, ‘gewollt’, by contrast, can mean both ‘intended’ and ‘wanted’. Thus ‘ungeplant aber gewollt’ in this sentence means ‘unplanned but wanted’ (clearly it cannot mean ‘unplanned but intended’, which would be a contradiction). In other words, the German term does not clearly distinguish between a prior intention and a subsequent welcome; the present translator’s judgement underlies the choice of English term in each instance.

1 In contrast to the earlier study ‘women’s lives 1’, miscarriages and stillbirths were not registered in the present study.