NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Births Set Records In 1999

April 18, 2001

A record 1.3 million babies were born to unwed mothers in 1999, marking the first time that a full one-third of all U.S. births were to mothers out of wedlock. At the same time, the U.S. teenage birth rate fell to its lowest level since accurate record-keeping began in 1940. The findings were announced yesterday by the National Center for Health Statistics.

  • Most of the 4 percent increase in unwed births since 1997 is due to the concurrent 3 percent increase in the population of unwed women, researchers report.
  • The birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 declined 3 percent -- to 49.6 births per 1,000 teenage women.
  • For the first time, in 1999 the teen birth rate fell below 50 per 1,000.
  • The 1999 figure represents a 20 percent decline from 1991's rate of 62.1.

The peak U.S. teenage birth rate coincided with the peak of the baby boom in 1957 -- when it hit 96.3 per 100,000.

Experts attribute the drop in teen births to less sex among teens and more contraception -- prompted, in turn, by awareness and concern about sexually-transmitted diseases. They also point out that there is a difference between teen childbearing and nonmarital childbearing.

The jump in births to unwed mothers disappointed welfare reform advocates, who had hoped that the 1996 reforms would discourage poorer women from conceiving children out of wedlock.

Sources: "Births: Final Data for 1999," National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, April 2001; Cheryl Wetzstein, "Unwed Mothers Set a Record for Births," Washington Times, and Rita Rubin, "Teen Birth Rates Drop to a New Low," USA Today, both April 18, 2001.


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