NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Marriages Down, Unwed Births Up

October 15, 2014

The structure of American families has changed drastically in the last half-century, write Isabel Sawhill and Joanna Venator for the Brookings Institute, with the number of single-parent families growing dramatically.

While fewer Americans are marrying today, Americans are continuing to give birth, regardless of marital status:

  • In 1960, 72 percent of American adults were married. In 2010, that figure had dropped to 51 percent. Many Americans are marrying later in life.
  • Single parent families have grown dramatically. While just 7 percent of American families with children were single parent families in 1950, 32 percent of families with children were single parent families in 2013.
  • Forty percent of all births today are to single mothers. More than half of all births to women under 30 are to single mothers.

Sawhill and Venator note that the birth rate for older single women has fallen in recent years, but they attribute the drop to the recession and note that the rates could rise again when the economy improves.

The majority of births to unmarried mothers are to those without college degrees and from poorer socioeconomic circumstances. For college educated mothers, just 10 percent of births occur outside of marriage, but for those with only a high school diploma, 60 percent of births take place outside of wedlock.

Source: Isabel V. Sawhill and Joanna Venator, "Families Adrift: Is Unwed Childbearing the New Norm?" Brookings Institute, October 13, 2014. 


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