The unequal abortion patterns in Finland

It’s been a while since my last post. A lot has happened in the last half-a-year-or-so. I became a lecturer at the University of Southampton in October, submitted my thesis to LSE in February and a couple of papers came out one of which was featured in Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest newspaper in Finland; see here in Finnish).

These last two papers that I published out of my thesis were about the association between labour market position (being employed, unemployed, student or inactive in the labour market) and the likelihood of abortion; and about the educational gradient in the likelihood of having more than one abortion. The former came out in the Finnish Yearbook of Population Research and the latter in Journal of Biosocial Science.

Both papers show that women’s socioeconomic position is associated with the likelihood of having an abortion and this has been the case since the 1970s until nowadays. Women who were unemployed were more likely to have an abortion than employed women in particular if they were not married or cohabiting. This indicates that women are concerned about the economic wellbeing of their family in an uncertain situation. During the recession of the 1990s the likelihood of abortion was higher among those who already had children and who were employed than it was before or after the recession. This implies that women may have been concerned about their position in the workplace in case they became pregnant. Given the economic situation we are facing today, it is something to consider.

When it comes to the likelihood of having more than one abortion during one’s reproductive life course, the likelihood is higher among those who have low levels of education, and the gap between the highly educated and those with no more than compulsory education has increased over time. Not many highly educated women had more than one abortion and the time since the first abortion, their relationship status or number of children they had were not associated with the likelihood. Women who had completed only compulsory education, however, had their second and third abortions sooner after the previous procedure than highly educated women and their other characteristics altered the likelihood as well. It may be that women with high education benefit more from post-abortion contraceptive counselling than women with low education.

Taken together, both of these studies show that abortion access in Finland depends on women’s standing in the society regardless of family planning provision in all municipalities since the 1970s and sexuality education in all schools. Although these are important policies and should be continued, there is a need to evaluate whether something could be done to better reach those in more precarious situations in the society.

Sources:

Väisänen, Heini (2016). “Educational inequalities in repeat abortion: A longitudinal register study in Finland 1975-2010.” Journal of Biosocial Science, doi:10.1017/S002193201600016X.

Väisänen, Heini (2015). “Labour Force Participation and the Likelihood of Abortion in Finland over Three Birth Cohorts.” Finnish Yearbook of Population Research, 50: 5-20.

How to Tackle the Socioeconomic Inequalities of Teenage Pregnancy

This is a post based on our article “Social Inequalities in Teenage Fertility Outcomes: Childbearing and Abortion Trends of Three Birth Cohorts in Finland”.

 

In the media, Finland is often displayed as an example of a country where society has taken big steps in ensuring equality in children’s upbringing: the world’s leading education system is free, parents are well supported financially, and able to choose between a long parental leave and working full time. At the same time their children are taken care of in one of the many public nurseries with university educated kindergarten teachers and parents only have to pay a small fraction of the costs.

When adolescents reach their teens and begin to explore elements of the adult world such as sex, it is important to ensure that they are equipped with enough information regarding sexual health, contraception and the emotions involved. Apart from a few recession years in the 1990s, sex education has been a compulsory part of the curriculum in Finland since 19701. That, among other reasons, has resulted in internationally low teenage pregnancy rates despite a temporary increase in the late 1990s2,3. In addition, contraceptives have been easily available from a variety of sources including school health centres and the public healthcare system since the early 1970s4.

Studies in the US and UK5,6 have found that teens who lack the possibility of pursuing certain careers, may wish to start childbearing at a young age because they see that as a legitimate pathway to adulthood. Perhaps the low teen pregnancy rates in Finland indicate that the policies mentioned above have been successful in providing alternative pathways to adulthood, making the remaining teen pregnancies happen due to other reasons than one’s socioeconomic position?

Although I do think that these policies are needed and should continue, it looks like they have not been very successful in decreasing the socioeconomic gap in teenage childbearing and abortions. Evidence for this is based on the results of our study looking at fertility behaviour of three birth cohorts of Finnish women when they were aged 15 to 19 (born in 1955-59, 1965-69 and 1975-79).

The likelihood of teenage childbearing or abortion was the highest for the adolescents from low socioeconomic status households, in particular if the head of the household was a manual worker. Among the teenagers who experienced a pregnancy the odds of choosing an abortion rather than childbearing were two to three times higher for teens from white-collar backgrounds, indicating a will to postpone childbearing – perhaps in order to pursue higher education and a career.

Interestingly, the socioeconomic differences were the largest for the 1960s cohort, even though they were the ones who should have enjoyed the best family planning services and sex education. The 1950s cohort was already in their teens when sex education and family planning services became compulsory in all municipalities, whereas the 1970s cohort suffered from cuts in these services due to the severe recession in the 1990s.

The results of the study do not claim that teens are better off without sex education and family planning services – in fact teen pregnancy rates started to increase soon after cuts were made to these services and started to decline again after the services were re-introduced. However, there is a need for tailored policies taking into account the different backgrounds of the adolescents. Although targeted family planning services and sex education should be in the core of these policies, it is equally important to provide support for teens who conceive regardless of whether they decide to carry the pregnancy to term. All adolescents, irrespective of their pregnancy history should be able to attend school and pursue the career of their choice.

This text has also been posted to Demotrends blog (an amazing blog I highly recommend!). For more information, check the article on the journal’s website.

 

References

  1. Kontula, O. The evolution of sex education and students’ sexual knowledge in Finland in the 2000s. Sex Educ. 10, 373–386 (2010).
  2. Heino, A. & Gissler, M. Induced abortions 2011. (National Institute for Health and Welfare, 2012).
  3. Vuori, A. & Gissler, M. Perinatal statistics: parturients, deliveries and newborns 2012. (National Institute for Health and Welfare, 2013).
  4. Kosunen, E. in New Views Sex. Health – Case Finl. (Lottes, I. & Kontula, O.) 70–84 (Väestöliitto, 2000).
  5. Hayford, S. R. & Guzzo, K. B. Racial and Ethnic Variation in Unmarried Young Adults’ Motivation to Avoid Pregnancy. Perspect. Sex. Reprod. Health 45, 41–51 (2013).
  6. Smith, D. M. & Roberts, R. Social inequality and young pregnancy: the causal attributions of young parents in London, UK. Health Place 17, 1054–1060 (2011).