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Who Uses Birth Control?

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on June 08, 2022

Nearly 65% of women between the ages of 15-49 in the U.S. use some form of birth control. And for these women, there are more options than ever. Choices include easy-to-get options like condoms and hormone pills, longer-lasting implantable devices like IUDs, and even permanent sterilization through surgery (also known as “getting your tubes tied”). Not all options are ideal for all people. Preferences tend to vary based on age, ethnicity, and race. Here is a closer look at who uses birth control in the U.S.

Who Is Most Likely to Use Birth Control?

Roughly 88% of women who are sexually active but don’t wish to become pregnant report using birth control. For those that don’t use it, the most common reasons are being pregnant already or simply not being sexually active. About 8% of women choose not to use any contraception even though they don’t want to get pregnant.

Rates of birth control usage tend to vary with age and life stage. In general, you are more likely to use contraception as you get older, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2018:

  • Women aged 15-19: 37.2%
  • Women aged 20-29: 61.9%
  • Women aged 30-39: 72%
  • Women aged 40-49: 73.7%

Is Birth Control Use Linked to Race and Ethnicity?

In the U.S., white women are slightly more likely to be on birth control than Black or Hispanic women. In one study from 2015, researchers showed that white women were up to twice as likely to use contraception as Black women. A 2018 study by the CDC looked at birth control usage among different racial groups, and the breakdown is:

  • Non-Hispanic white: 67%
  • Hispanic: 64%
  • Non-Hispanic Black: 59.9%

In addition, research has shown that Black and Hispanic women are more likely to use less reliable methods of contraception like condoms or withdrawal, possibly due to racial disparities in health care. White women are more likely to prioritize birth control effectiveness over other considerations. One study from 2017 showed that Black and Hispanic women tend to favor methods that do not contain hormones and that also prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like condoms.

Is Birth Control Use Linked to Education Levels?

No. In fact, a 2018 CDC study found that women with the lowest level of education had the highest rate of contraception usage, followed by those with a diploma or GED.

  • Non-high school graduate: 75.6%
  • High school or GED: 70.3%
  • Some college: 68.2%
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 70.2%

Does Where You Live Make a Difference in Birth Control Use?

Similar rates of birth control usage are reported in urban and rural areas. If you live in a rural area, you are more likely to use highly effective methods, such as sterilization or IUD, compared to women in urban areas. Similar numbers of women in rural and urban areas used no contraception.

Urban:

  • Highly effective methods (IUD or sterilization): 30.4%
  • Moderately effective methods (the pill or injectable): 23.3%
  • Least effective methods (condom or withdrawal): 25.4%

Rural:

  • Highly effective methods (IUD or sterilization): 40.8%
  • Moderately effective methods (the pill or injectable): 19.6%
  • Least effective methods (condom or withdrawal): 18.6%

Which Birth Control Methods Are the Most Popular?

The two most common forms of contraception are female sterilization and the pill. About 18% of women aged 15-49 opt for sterilization, and 14% use the pill.

Female sterilization, also called tubal ligation, is a surgical procedure in which the fallopian tubes are cut so that the egg can no longer travel to the uterus, the organ in your belly where an unborn baby develops, to be fertilized. The rates of female sterilization increase with age.

The next most common form of birth control is the oral contraceptive pill. Unlike sterilization, the use of the pill is more popular among younger women. It is the method of choice among women in their teens and 20s, but then drops in popularity after that. The pill is preferred among urban and white women with slightly less usage by Hispanic and Black women.

Around 10% of women choose long-acting reversible contraceptives. This category includes intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are small, plastic T-shaped devices that sit in the uterus and prevent pregnancy. It also includes implantable forms of birth control that go under the skin and slowly release hormones. These forms of birth control are well-liked for their long-lasting effects while not being permanent. These forms of birth control are favored by women in their 20s, followed by those in their 30s and then teens. It is the second most common form of birth control for women in their 40s, following surgical sterilization.

The fourth most common option for women wishing to avoid pregnancy is condoms or having their partner undergo a vasectomy. Condoms are used by 7%-10% of women. Roughly 11% of men aged 30 to 45 have had vasectomies.

Is There a Link Between Groups Who Use Birth Control and Unintended Pregnancies?

About half of the 6.5 million pregnancies each year in the U.S. are unplanned.

Black and Hispanic women are more likely than white women to experience an unwanted pregnancy. In addition, white women were slightly more likely to favor highly effective forms of birth control such as female sterilization, vasectomy, IUDs, or implants than Hispanic and Black women, who tend to use less-effective methods like condoms, withdrawal, spermicide, and diaphragms.

Black and Hispanic men are much less likely to have a vasectomy than white men. Roughly 11% of all men between the ages of 30 and 45 have had a vasectomy, but the vast majority of those are white men at 14% compared to 4% for Black men and 5% for Hispanic men.

What Reasons Might Someone Use Birth Control Other Than Family Planning?

The pill can be prescribed to women to treat certain medical conditions caused by hormone imbalances or the loss of blood like anemia. Some medical conditions may be treated with birth control, such as:

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Endometriosis
  • Lack of periods (knows as amenorrhea)
  • Painful periods
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Acne
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency
  • Heavy periods
  • Anemia

Show Sources

SOURCES:

National Center for Health Statistics: “Current Contraceptive Status Among Women Aged 15–49: United States, 2015–2017," “Urban and Rural Variation in Fertility-related Behavior Among U.S. Women, 2011–2015."

F&S Reports: “Use of contraception among reproductive-aged women in the United States, 2014 and 2016.”

Urology: “Racial differences in vasectomy utilization in the United States: data from the national survey of family growth.”

AMA Journal of Ethics: “Seeking Causes for Race-Related Disparities in Contraceptive Use.”

Medscape: “Laparoscopic Tubal Ligation.”

Medline Plus: “Intrauterine Devices."

Contraception: “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Contraceptive Use Among Women Who Desire No Future Children, 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth."

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