More than 100 million women around the world start their day by taking a birth control pill. Now 50 years old, the pill is being celebrated for bringing a power shift to women's lives which has enabled millions of women to continue their education, earn higher incomes and have richer life experiences.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill on May 9, 1960 in the United States but it wasn’t available to married women in all states until a court case in 1965 and wasn’t available to single women in all states until another court decision in 1972. In the first decade of availability few college health clinics offered it and some schools made it available only if the woman brought in a note from her minister saying she planned to be married. Even Planned Parenthood required a woman be married to get the pill. Today some 12 million married and unmarried American women use birth control pills.
Time magazine reporter Nancy Gibbs provides extensive coverage of the development and implications of the pill in a cover story titled: The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox. She notes the pill’s major impact was the transformation of women’s lives:
“By the 1970s the true impact of the Pill could begin to be measured, and it was not on the sexual behavior of American women; it was on how they envisioned their lives, their choices and their obligations. In 1970 the median age at which college graduates married was about 23; by 1975, as use of the Pill among single women became more common, that age had jumped 2.5 years. The fashion for large families went the way of the girdle. In 1963, 80 percent of non-Catholic college women said they wanted three or more children; that plunged to 29 percent by 1973. More women were able to imagine a life that included both a family and a job, which changed their childbearing calculations.”
Gibbs continued, “Employers, meanwhile, lost a primary excuse for closing their ranks to women. It helped that as more women were knocking on the doors, more companies were eager to open them; by 1966, unemployment was around 3.8 percent.