Melissa Moore is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at UVA. She uses applied microeconomic methods to study the health and well-being of women and minorities. Topics of specific interest include reproductive health, infectious diseases, domestic violence, and police use of force. In her dissertation, “Safer Sex? The Effect of AIDS Risk on Birth Rates,” she studies how women make choices about sexual behavior and contraception given two potential health risks from sexual activity: acquiring a sexually-transmitted infection and becoming pregnant. Melissa has been awarded a Bankard Pre-doctoral Fellowship for the 2020-21 year and will defend her dissertation in 2021.
Safer Sex? The Effect of AIDS Risk on Birth Rates
The advent of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s dramatically increased the cost of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Prior research shows that people responded to the AIDS epidemic by switching to sexual behaviors and contraceptive methods with lower likelihood of AIDS transmission. These behavioral adjustments also affect the likelihood of pregnancy and the incidence of other STIs. This paper provides evidence that the AIDS epidemic increased the birth rate among adult women by as much as 1.26 births per 1000 women and reduced gonorrhea incidence. The fertility results are driven by an increase in births to unmarried women, but only among births for which information on the father is available. I conclude that unmarried women responded to AIDS by entering monogamous relationships, which in turn led to an increase in the birth rate.