A study of unmarried men living with female partners found that most would prefer to have input on decisions about terminating an unexpected pregnancy, and most men said their own views would depend more on personal circumstances than any religious or political stand.
The study, "Cohabiting Men's Preferences for and Roles in Determining the Outcomes of Unexpected Pregnancies," was conducted by Assistant Professor Amanda J. Miller, Ph.D., of the University of Indianapolis Department of Social Sciences. The results are published in the September issue of Sociological Forum.
Miller, in collaboration with Professor Sharon Sassler of Cornell University, conducted in-depth interviews with 61 men ages 18 to 36 and asked them about reproductive choices they have made and would prefer to make in their relationships. The men were categorized as either working class or middle class based on their educational attainment.
Although some said they were always pro-life or always believed that pregnancy decisions should be made by women, most said their opinions on whether to terminate a pregnancy would depend on situational factors, including financial circumstances, evaluations of their own maturity and the quality of their relationships with their partners. A significant number noted that their preferences had changed over time, while others suggested their views might shift depending on their circumstances.
"This research can help explain some of the differences we see in terms of family outcomes between the working class and the middle class," Miller said. "Some of my colleagues have found, for example, that middle-class cohabitors are more likely to marry upon learning of a pregnancy than their working-class peers. I wanted to investigate why that might be."
The middle-class men were more likely to feel prepared for fatherhood, Miller found, in part because they had opportunities to complete their educations and felt secure in their careers. In contrast, working-class men more often preferred that their partners opt for abortion because they felt unprepared in terms of their own financial circumstances or were not yet emotionally mature enough for parenthood.
"A number of the working-class men were living with women that they were certain were not 'the one,'" Miller noted. "On the whole, the middle-class men felt more prepared for parenthood because they felt far more stable in their relationships. They were more likely to be engaged and have a wedding date set, for example."
She added that people with more education and income often face a larger pool of prospective mates, which may help them locate compatible partners more easily.
"Having already achieved other markers of readiness through their educational, career and financial successes, adding the other elements of a child and, in turn, a wife to the mix may seem less daunting," Miller explained.
A subsample of 22 men who had experienced pregnancies in their relationships was used to explore men's actual roles in negotiating such questions. Although nearly all of the study subjects said they wanted to have input, most of those who had actually faced the situation were not involved in their partners' decisions, particularly if their partners had opted for an abortion.
In terms of public policy, the responses suggest that men should be encouraged to take a more active role in contraceptive behavior, Miller said.
"Although legally men cannot control the outcome of a pregnancy," she said, "one thing they can have greater control over is helping to ensure that their partners do not become pregnant until the timing is right, through the use of male forms of contraception."
Miller also suggested that unmarried couples culd benefit from discussing their fertility plans and preferred pregnancy outcomes before becoming sexually active. In fact, some federal funding is currently being used to provide counseling to unmarried partners.
"Helping ensure that partners are on the same page with their future plans will lead to healthier family outcomes," she said.
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