Sooner or Later: Age, Pregnancy, and the Reproductive Revolution in Late Twentieth-Century America


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Science and Medicine


This dissertation examines debates about the timing of pregnancy in the United States during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1970s, the availability of effective contraception, coupled with the mass entry of women into the labor market, made age at first birth a central preoccupation for physicians, politicians, and women alike. By comparing the case of teenagers and women over 35, the project argues that untimely pregnancies—a teenager becoming pregnant too soon, or a woman over 35 attempting pregnancy too late—came to be defined as medically and culturally problematic. It demonstrates how both teenage and delayed pregnancy were constructed as social crises, and explores how reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization were used to extend the “biological clock.”