Fifty years ago, a landmark Supreme Court ruling changed the course of women's lives forever.
On June 7, 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut legalized the birth control pill for married couples, paving the way for rulings that led to birth control access for all women. Since then, the pill has been an unparalled cultural force — it's what Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founding editor of Ms. Magazine, called "an equalizer, a liberator," and what Playboy editor Hugh Hefner said reshaped the view that "sexual intercourse is about a good deal more than turning two people into parents," according to CNN.
While we may associate the pill with the sexual revolution and our modern, casual sex-filled reality, it has changed women's lives in ways that — surprise, surprise — go far beyond sex. Today, more than 99% of sexually active women ages 15 to 44 have used at least one method of contraception. And that contraception has given generations of women autonomy over their fertility, and thus, their futures.
Here are seven major ways that little pill has impacted women's achievements over the past five decades.
1. It helps women get to college.
Having access to the pill at a younger age influences college enrollment. "Overall, among women in their early 20s, college enrollment was 20% higher among those who had had legal pill access at age 18, compared with women who could not legally obtain the pill in late adolescence," the Guttmacher Institute found.
"This is a critical period when women are making decisions — about marriage, who to date, whether to marry, whether to attend college, what to major in and what types of careers to plan for," Martha Bailey, research associate professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan and author of the research, told Mic. "This critical period determines a lot of what happens over the next 20 years, which is why access to birth control during this critical period can have such large effects."
2. It helps them stay in school longer.
By giving women control over when or if they want to start families, the pill allowed women the choice to take time and space for other pursuits that didn't include marriage or kids. That meant more women in college, staying for longer.
"Young women who could access the pill before having to decide whether to pursue higher education obtained an average of about one year more of education before age 30," according to research highlighted by the Guttmacher Institute. Today, women outnumber men in college enrollment.
3. It propels women to high-earning jobs.
A 2002 Harvard University study found that "more lenient laws led to a greater use of oral contraceptives and directly produced an increase in the age at first marriage and also led to an increase in the fraction of women entering professional school and ending up in professional careers." The study even estimated that the pill accounted for a 30% increase in the proportion of women who entered skilled careers.
That means more women are in high-earning jobs like law, medicine and business. Since 1970, the share of women working in management or professional occupations has risen from 19.9% to 51% in 2011, according to Bloomberg Business.
"Now women are half the workforce, depending on the year you look at, and that's just never been true before," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Mic.
4. It's helping close the pay gap between men and women.
While the wage gap still exists today, it would be a whole lot more significant if it weren't for women taking control over their fertility. A 2012 study found that the decrease in the wage gap between men and women ages 25 to 49 "would have been 10% smaller in the 1980s and 30% smaller in the 1990s" without legal birth control access. More time to decide whether to have a family allowed for women to invest in their careers and get a higher pay check to boot.
5. It's brought teen and unintended pregnancies to an all-time low.
This one is a no-brainer. With more women on the pill, that means less risk of unintended pregnancies, especially at a young age. A 2007 study found that 86% of the decline in teen pregnancy could be attributed to better contraceptive use.
"There is a 30-year low in this country both in teen pregnancy and unintended pregnancy and that's not because women changed their minds about these issues. It's because they actually had access to information and health care that allowed them to make the best decisions for themselves," Richards said.
6. It's helped our families to flourish.
A 2014 study found that people born in the years following the introduction of family planning programs — those that provide contraception — were less likely to live in poverty.
"We find that children born after these programs began (relative to those born before these programs began in the same counties) were significantly less likely to live in poverty both as children and as adults," Bailey, author of the study, told Mic.
7. We're simply happier being in control of our fates.
Parents who plan their families may very well be happier. "Unplanned births are tied to increased conflict and decreased satisfaction in relationships and with elevated odds that a relationship will fail. ...Contraceptive access and consistent method use may also affect mental health outcomes by allowing couples to plan the number of children in their family," according to the Guttmacher Institute. The pill not only impacts women, but the families they build.
"You can mark so much progress that women have made since that time in everything, whether their economic gains or financial opportunities," Richards said. "I think it's something to celebrate, but also redouble our efforts and make sure it's something available for everyone."