Births to unmarried women hit record
By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A record number of babies - nearly 1.5 million - were born to
unmarried women in the U.S. last year. And those moms were more likely to b=
20-somethings than teenagers, according to new federal data released Friday=
"This is not a teenage issue," says Stephanie Ventura,. a demographer with =
National Center for Health Statistics. "Women in their 20s are accounting f=
a huge percentage of these births."
The data show that 35.7% of all births were to unmarried women. Births last
year to both married and unwed mothers totalled more than 4 million.
By age group, almost 55% of the births for mothers ages 20-24 were to
unmarried women. For those between 25-29, almost 28% of the births were to
Teenagers, who accounted for 50% of unwed births in 1970, accounted for 24%=
unwed births in 2004.
Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, s=
she's thrilled about the decline in teenage mothers, but she worries about =
trend for those ages 20 and above.
"It's not going in the right direction," she says. "The right direction wou=
be non-marital childbearing in all groups to be going down."
Instead, the numbers of unwed births has increased slightly each year since
1990. But Ventura says "a steep increase in a short period" - the last two
years - "caught our attention."
Between 2002 and 2004, births among unmarried women ages 25-29 jumped more
than 14%. It rose about 7% among the 20-24 age group over the same period.
"There's been a sea change in terms of expectations around marriage and
babies," says Dorian Solot, co-founder of the Alternatives to Marriage
Project, an advocacy organization for the unmarried.
Solot says unmarried mothers present very different scenarios for their
children, depending upon whether they are the single, professional
parent-by-choice, a cohabiting couple, or a poor woman living alone.
Sara S. McLanahan, a sociology professor at Princeton University and direct=
of the Center for Research on Child Well-Being, says most often unwed mothe=
are disadvantaged with a high school degree or less education. She worries
about the children in such relationships, which tend to be less stable and
create more complex families.
"These are relatively unstable relationships, even among older mothers," sh=
"It's really unfair to children," says David Poponoe, a sociology professor=
Rutgers University who has studied the effects of marriage and cohabitation=
children. He co-directs the National Marriage Project at Rutgers.
"One thing you don't know from these data is whether the births are to lone
women or to a cohabiting women," he says.
Studies have shown cohabitating relationships are less stable and about hal=
break up within five years. But cohabiting couples are more likely to provi=
a healthier environment for children than a single woman alone, the experts
The data also showed:
. Childbearing by women their early 20s showed a decline.
. Births to older women continue to increase.