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Jack Weinstein

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The New York Times reports about a new, very detailed, study of contraceptive use in the United States. In the midst of the article is a tremendously interesting piece of information. The rate of contraceptive use among women, the first time they have intercourse, is directly correlated to the level of their mother’s education:

“Seven out of 10 women said they had used some form of contraception at their first incidence of intercourse, … For those whose mothers had no high school diploma, the rate was 52.8 percent; for daughters of high-school graduates it was 69.3 percent; for daughters of women with some college, 75.5 percent; and for daughters of college graduates, 83.9 percent.”

Pretty much everyone knows that a parent’s habits have profound effects on her or his child. The amount of time children see their parents read, for example, correlates to their own reading abilities. But the observation about contraception is not about similar behavior like the impact of reading on reading is. Instead, it is about how a significant set of life experiences (education) and the knowledge base it provides translates to a behavior that may not be included in that experience at all. In other words, the study did not say that it was related to mothers’ education about contraception, only about education in general.

I could speculate as to why this connection exists but I’m not a sociologist and I would be guessing. Instead, I am moved to pose a more general question, asking what other indirect effects a mother’s or parent’s education has on a child.

It is also noteworthy that contraceptive use correlates with the mother’s education and not the father’s. Does this mean that fathers are not talking to their daughters about contraception? Does it mean that they are, but the daughters aren’t listening? Or, does it mean that the role modeling that a mother does is significantly more important to a daughter than the role modeling the father does? It wouldn’t surprise me if all three were true, of course, or if, in the end, it meant that a father impacts a different set of behaviors than a mother does.

In any case, we have yet another reason to promote education: it promotes responsible behavior over a tremendously wide range of activities. (And yes, I am aware that I am calling using contraceptives “responsible” and not condemning women who engage in sex for pleasure.)

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