Changes in the Stratification of Contraceptive Use at First Intercourse in Italy, 1950-2006

Emanuela Struffolino, WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Hannah Zagel , WZB Berlin Social Science Center

This paper investigates inequality in contraceptive use at first intercourse by gender and social background. We use this perspective as a window into social change over time, and specifically for understanding the limits to liberalising sexual behaviour and reproductive rights. Previous research finds stratification of contraceptive use by social background and by gender, but research on trends in these patterns of contraception at first intercourse is limited. We study these links in Italy 1950-2006, a context where regional and class disparities intersect with religion and gender norms in characteristic ways. We analyze data from the “Survey on Italians’ Sexual Behavior” (2006) and a macro-dataset of family centers (consultori), which we compiled to consider institutional contexts. We distinguish three historical periods, the restrictive (before 1967), the transformative (1967-1981) and the liberal period (after 1981). Our analyses confirm a steep increase in contraceptive use over time in Italy, but also reveal a strong and persisting gender gap: men’s probability to use contraception at first intercourse is higher across all periods. We also find evidence for a socially stratified contraceptive behaviour at first intercourse for young women, which developed with increasingly liberal sexuality norms. Interestingly, we do not see that family centres helped reduce any of the differences in use. Although young people in Italy show overall growing individual command over sexuality, young women’s realization of personal sexual autonomy lags behind that of men’s suggesting that individualization is a stratified process and that, in Italy, institutions failed to moderate these inequalities.

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 Presented in Session 48. Policies on Gender and Reproductive Health and its impacts on population trends