Black and Latino women have "substantially higher" pregnancy rates at all ages than do white women, but the pregnancies among black women are far more likely to end in abortion than those among white women and Latinas, a new government report shows.
The National Center for Health Statistics report is the first to present a detailed breakdown of pregnancy patterns in each of these groups.
"It was very striking that if you compare white and black women, there are roughly the same number of wanted births. But black women have nearly twice as many pregnancies," statistician William D. Mosher said. "That indicates that there is still a great deal of room for improvement in terms of getting across services to prevent those unwanted pregnancies."
Latinas had high pregnancy rates but also desired larger families than white or black women, Mosher said.
There were 6.5 million pregnancies in the United States in 1992, the report said, down from a peak of 6.7 million in 1990. Over the past decade, the pregnancy rate has been relatively stable, with about 11% of women of childbearing age (15 to 44 years) pregnant in any given year.
In 1992, for every eight pregnancies, five ended in live births, two in abortions and one in miscarriage or stillbirth. Over a lifetime, an American woman averages about 3.3 pregnancies, with 2.1 resulting in a live birth, 0.8 in abortion, and 0.4 in miscarriage or stillbirth.
The government projections suggest, however, that the typical black woman will have far more pregnancies (5.1 over a lifetime), with 1.8 of them considered to be planned or wanted at the time of conception. The typical white woman will have 2.8 pregnancies in her lifetime; 1.6 are wanted births. The average lifetime number of pregnancies is 4.7 among Latinas; 2.6 are wanted births.
About two-thirds of pregnancies among Latinas and white women resulted in live births in 1991, compared with just half of pregnancies among black women. This is the latest year for which pregnancy data by race and age are available.
Mosher suggested that the major factors contributing to unintended birth and to abortions were "less-effective contraceptive use by black couples and a larger proportion of black couples who don't use contraception at all. It isn't clear what the most important social factors are, but access to medical care is obviously one of them."