NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 15, 2009

The number of babies being born out of wedlock has increased sharply in the United States, driven primarily by significant jumps in women in their 20s and 30s having children without getting married, according to a new federal report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Other findings:

  • More than 1.7 million babies were born to unmarried women in 2007, a 26 percent rise from 2002 and more than double the number in 1980.
  • The increase reflected a 21 percent jump in the rates of unmarried women giving birth, which rose from 43.7 per 1,000 women in 2002 to 52.9 per 1,000 women.
  • That means that unmarried women accounted for 39.7 percent of all U.S. births in 2007 -- up from 34 percent in 2002 and more than double the percentage in 1980.

"It's been a huge increase -- a dramatic increase. It's quite striking," said Stephanie Ventura, who led the analysis of birth certificate data nationwide.

Although the report did not examine the reasons for the increase, Ventura and other specialists said the trend has been driven by a combination of factors, including the lessening of the social stigma associated with unmarried motherhood, an increase in couples delaying or forgoing marriage, and growing numbers of financially independent women and older and single women who decide to have children on their own after delaying childbearing.

Source: Rob Stein and Donna St. George, "More babies being born to unwed mothers," Washington Post/Boston Globe, May 14, 2009.

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