The Sterilization Gap

The Sterilization Gap

By Chris Pummer

SourceDaniel Malka/Gallery Stock


To save their fertility for potential future partners, men in the U.S. more often are leaving the most radical form of contraception to women.

By Chris Pummer

Ever since the first prehistoric woman realized coitus interruptus could prevent pregnancy and pushed away a lust-crazed cretin, women throughout the world have borne the burden of contraception. However, with the rise of modern medicine, women’s rights and family planning, that burden became more equally distributed…or did it?

About 50/50

Proportion of men to women who were medically sterilized in the 1970s.

Men and women were medically sterilized, through vasectomies and tubal ligations, in roughly equal numbers in the 1970s. The procedures are among the most radical methods of contraception, but sociologists of the time had no reason to imagine the way those numbers would skew 40 years later.

17% vs. 6%

Proportion of men to women who were medically sterilized recently, according to the National Center for Health Statistics

According to the most recent findings from the National Center for Health Statistics, among women ages 15 to 44, 17 percent have undergone tubal ligation — that’s 1 in 6 — compared to 6 percent of men who have undergone a vasectomy, or 1 in 17.

More than twice as many 21st-century women get their “tubes tied” as the number of men getting their vas deferens ducts “snipped.” One hypothesis as to the driving force behind the shift: the rise in the divorce rate.


With half of marriages ending in divorce, many men who might have opted for a vasectomy after fathering several children now refrain, concerned that a future spouse or partner will want children. Meanwhile, more women in shaky marriages opt for tubal ligation to limit the number of children they may have to care for as a single mom in the event of divorce.

Whether or not the changing nature of modern marriage is at the root of this twist, it’s clear that there’s far more at work than empowered women passing on motherhood or men’s queasiness about undergoing “the procedure.”