Send to

Choose Destination
Fam Plann Perspect. 2001 Jan-Feb;33(1):35-41, 49.

Union status, marital history and female contraceptive sterilization in the United States.

Author information

Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.



Much of what is known about the choice of sterilization as a contraceptive method is based on data from married women or couples. Because of increasing rates of cohabitation, divorce and repartnering, however, the relationship context in which sterilization decisions are made has changed.


The 1995 National Survey of Family Growth includes the complete birth and union histories of 10,277 white, black and Hispanic women. The distribution of union status and marital history at the time of tubal sterilization was estimated for these three racial and ethnic groups among the 799 women who had had a tubal ligation in 1990-1995 before age 40. Cox proportional hazard regression models were used to estimate the effects of union status and marital history on the risk of tubal sterilization. The analysis controlled for the woman's age, parity, race and ethnicity education, region, experience of an unwanted birth and calendar period.


Among women who obtained a tubal sterilization, most whites (79%) and Hispanics (66%) were married when they had the operation, compared with only 36% of black women. At the time of their sterilization, 46% of black women had never been married. Among all women, regardless of race and ethnicity and net of all controls, the probability of tubal sterilization is about 25% lower for single, never-married women than for cohabiting or married women. Cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood in comparison to marriage, however. Higher rates of tubal sterilization among Hispanic women are accounted for by their higher parity at each age; differences in parity or marriage by race only partially account for the relatively higher rates of tubal sterilization among black women.


Because women currently spend greater proportions of their lives outside of marriage or in less-stable cohabiting partnerships than they did in the past, they are increasingly likely to make the decision to seek sterilization on their own. As a result, the gender gap in contraceptive sterilization will likely increase. The possibility of partnership change is an important consideration in choosing sterilization as a contraceptive method.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for The Alan Guttmacher Institute
Loading ...
Support Center