More than half the public -- including most women -- believes the birth control pill has been one of the most significant medical developments of the last half century, a new CBS News poll finds.
Most Americans say "the pill" has had an impact on American society and on women's lives in particular, and credit it with helping women enter the work force.
The birth control pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. Today, 52 percent of Americans say it has been one of the most significant medical developments of the last 50 years, according to the poll, conducted on May 4th and 5th.
Four in five Americans think the birth control pill has had at least some effect on American society overall, including 41 percent who say it's had a great deal of impact.
Even more, 54 percent, think the birth control pill has had a great deal of impact on women's lives in particular.
The Pill: Women's Lives Made Better
Most Americans say women's lives were changed for the better because of the birth control pill. Only a quarter think it made no difference, and even fewer say the pill made women's lives worse.
Men (59 percent), women (54 percent), and women who have ever taken the pill (54 percent) say that women's lives were improved as a result of the birth control pill.
More specifically, Americans think the birth control pill helped women enter the work force: 57 percent say the pill made it easier for women to have jobs and careers outside the home.
That number rises to 69 percent among Americans age 45 and over -- an age group more likely to have felt the impact of the pill when it was first developed and put on the market. Among women age 45 and older that figure is 64 percent.
By contrast, 53 percent of younger Americans say the birth control pill had no effect on the ability of women to work outside the home.
Among working women, 55 percent say the birth control poll has made it easier for women to enter the workforce.
Family Life and Attitudes Toward Sex
Roughly half of Americans say the birth control pill has improved American family life, while a third doesn't think it has had much effect.
Religion has some impact on these views. Among Catholics, whose church opposes non-natural forms of birth control, just 38 percent believe the birth control pill has improved American family life. That figure is 52 percent among Protestants.
Eight in ten Americans think the birth control pill has affected Americans' attitudes toward sex, including 51 percent who say it impacted those attitudes a great deal.
The Pill: Safety and Effectiveness
The poll finds public concerns about the safety of the birth control pill have diminished over time.
In 1966, six years after the pill was approved by the FDA, fewer than half of Americans - 43 percent - told a Gallup Poll that birth control pills could be used safely without danger to a person's health.
That number has risen to 64 percent today.
Among women, 58 percent now think the birth control pill can be used safely, as do a similar percentage of women who have ever taken it.
Nearly half of women think the birth control pill is just as safe as other forms of birth control, and another 20 percent believe the pill is safer. Still, one in five thinks it is less safe. Views are similar among women who have ever taken birth control pills.
More than eight in 10 Americans (including 82 percent of women) say birth control pills are effective. In a 1966 Gallup Poll, a smaller number of Americans (though still a 61 percent majority) thought the birth control pill was effective.
Some medical research has been done on a contraceptive for men similar to that of the birth control pill. A majority of women do not think most men would take birth control pills if they were available.
In contrast, two-thirds of men think most men would take the pill if it were available.
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 591 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone May 4-5, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.