Volume 47 - Article 18 | Pages 529–544  

Female sterilization in the life course: Understanding trends and differentials in early sterilization

By Sara Johnsen, Megan Sweeney


Background: Socioeconomically disadvantaged women and women of color are more likely than other women both to undergo contraceptive sterilization and to desire sterilization reversal. Although younger age at sterilization is associated with greater likelihood of regret, we know little about socioeconomic and racial/ethnic differences in sterilization timing within the life course.

Objective: We examine racial, ethnic, and educational differences in the prevalence of sterilization and its timing in the life course.

Methods: Using data from the 1995, 2002, 2006–2010, 2011–2013, 2013–2015, 2015–2017, and 2017–2019 National Survey of Family Growth, we estimate the prevalence and life timing of sterilization by subgroup and investigate associations with women’s demographic and reproductive characteristics.

Results: We find differing patterns of sterilization timing across racial, ethnic, and educational groups. Among sterilized women, Black women are more likely than White women to have undergone their procedures by age 30, but these differences in sterilization timing are attributable to reproductive background characteristics. On the other hand, Hispanic women are more likely than White women to become sterilized, but our findings suggest they are less likely to undergo the procedure by age 30, conditional on becoming sterilized. Women without a college degree are both considerably more likely than college-educated women to become sterilized and, conditional on becoming sterilized, to do so by age 30.

Contribution: Our study sheds new light on racial, ethnic, and educational differences in the life timing of female sterilization over the past quarter century.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Reconsidering (in)equality in the use of IUDs in the United States: A closer look across the reproductive life course
Volume 43 - Article 35

The reproductive context of cohabitation in comparative perspective: Contraceptive use in the United States, Spain, and France
Volume 32 - Article 5

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