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New Census Bureau Research Shows Link Between Contraception Access and High School Completion

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Does access to contraception impact women’s lives, including their educational attainment?

While the answer is often assumed to be “yes,” there is surprisingly little empirical evidence to support it primarily because of limited data availability.

This research is made possible because the Census Bureau is now allowing researchers access to linked decennial and ACS data at the individual level under strict privacy restrictions.

But now, a research team from the U.S. Census Bureau and the University of Colorado have filled the data void by linking decennial census data and American Community Survey (ACS) data to analyze the impact of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative (CFPI) on high school completion.

This research is made possible because the Census Bureau is now allowing researchers access to linked decennial and ACS data at the individual level under strict privacy restrictions.

Contraception and Education

In 2009, CFPI increased access to contraceptives by making every FDA-approved contraceptive method available to every client in every Colorado Title X family planning clinic at low or no cost.

The Census Bureau and University of Colorado research team found that since then, the CFPI program resulted in a 2% increase in high school graduation rates for young women and a 14% decrease in the proportion of young women in Colorado without a high school diploma.

The impact of CFPI on education for Hispanic women was especially large. Prior to CFPI, a greater share of Hispanic women were not graduating high school: 22.3% compared to 7.7% for non-Hispanic White women.

CFPI is estimated to have reduced the share of Hispanic women not graduating high school by 21.8% and significantly increased high school graduation rates for Hispanic women in Colorado by 2.1%.

The findings were recently published in a paper entitled, “The Impact of Contraceptive Access on High School Graduation.”


Benefits of Linking Large Data Sets

The research was made possible by linking the 2000 and 2010 decennial censuses to the ACS at the individual level. This created a large longitudinal data set to analyze the impacts of CFPI.

Without longitudinal data, it would not have been possible to identify the individuals in Colorado at the time of the policy implementation and track their educational outcomes.

Existing longitudinal surveys in the United States were not an option for this research because of small sample sizes. The linked 2000, 2010, and, soon-to-be-available 2020 decennial census data and large ACS sample data create opportunities to study programs like CFPI, which were not possible previously because of the limited availability of data.

How the Census Bureau Protects the Data

The Census Bureau links individual respondents across surveys and censuses. It does that by assigning unique anonymous identifiers based on Personally Identifying Information (PII) in the data. The Census Bureau then replaces most PII with a unique identifier before the data are used by employees and researchers.

Even without the PII, the data are accessed in a secure, restricted-use environment on approved projects for statistical and research purposes only. All results are reviewed prior to release to ensure the confidentiality of all respondents.

Prior to 2015, there were limited projects approved to link decennial census and ACS data for research. The Census Longitudinal Infrastructure Project pilot program was developed for 10 Census Bureau and academic research collaborations.

Following the success of these research projects, many of which are still ongoing, the Census Bureau started allowing researchers to request the linked decennial census and ACS data for use on research projects in 2018.

Researchers can now ask for access to decennial censuses and ACS data linked at the individual level for use on statistical projects. There is a standard research proposal process and once projects are approved, researchers access the restricted-use data through the Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) network.

Researchers interested in using these data should contact the Census Bureau administrator at the FSRDC locations.


Katie Genadek is an economist at the U.S. Census Bureau.


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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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