Literacy and contraception: Exploring the link

Ruth M. Parker, Mark V. Williams, David W. Baker, Joanne R. Nurss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Objective: To describe what is known about the relation of literacy skills to contraceptive use and to suggest directions for future research. An overview of what is known about the literacy skills of Americans and the prevalence of inadequate functional health literacy is presented. Information about reading requirements for various methods of contraception and advice from health educators on dealing with low-literate populations are described. Data Sources: MEDLINE, PsychInfo, and ERIC searches for the last 20 years were completed using the terms literacy, literacy and health, family planning, health status, educational status, risk factors, contraception, and pregnancy. Methods of Study Selection: The primary literature searches identified 125 articles. After reviewing abstracts for these articles, we excluded 79 because they contained no specific mention of literacy or educational status relating to contraception. Tabulation, Integration, and Results: We were unable to identify any study specifically devoted to the relation between functional literacy and actual use of contraceptives. Forty- six with relevant background or related information were identified: literacy and health (19), adult literacy (nine), literacy and contraception (11), and literacy and family planning (seven). Over one-third of English-speaking and 62% of Spanish-speaking patients had inadequate or marginal functional health literacy in a study conducted at two urban public hospitals. Studies by health educators have demonstrated that information for many types of contraceptives is frequently above the patient's reading level. Available epidemiologic information on the relation between educational status and unplanned pregnancy is also presented. Conclusions: Although no study has specifically addressed how functional health literacy affects contraceptive use, it is reasonable to hypothesize that functional health literacy influences contraceptive knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Future research should focus on the relation between functional health literacy and actual use of various contraceptives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72S-77S
JournalObstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number3 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Sep 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Literacy and contraception: Exploring the link'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this