More children born to unmarried parents- why do you think the numbers on this have jumped?
More children born to unmarried parents
A growing number of firstborns in the USA have unmarried parents, reflecting dramatic increases since 2002 in births to cohabiting women, according to government figures out today.
The percentage of first births to women living with a male partner jumped from 12% in 2002 to 22% in 2006-10 — an 83% increase. The percentage of cohabiting new fathers rose from 18% to 25%. The analysis, by the National Center for Health Statistics, is based on data collected from 2006 to 2010.
"We were a little surprised in such a short time period to see these increases," says demographer Gladys Martinez, lead author of the report, based on face-to-face interviews with 12,279 women and 10,403 men ages 15-44.
The percentage of first births to cohabiting women tripled from 9% in 1985 to 27% for births from 2003 to 2010.
Karen Benjamin Guzzo, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, who studies cohabitation and fertility, says she thinks the big jump since 2002 is likely because of the recession, which was at its height from late 2007 to 2009, right in the middle of the federal data collection.
"I think it's economic shock," she says. "Marriage is an achievement that you enter into when you're ready. But in the meantime, life happens. You form relationships. You have sex. You get pregnant. In a perfect world, they would prefer to be married, but where the economy is now, they're not going to be able to get married, and they don't want to wait to have kids."
Also, middle class parents may think more about how much kids cost, but "having kids is much more than about money. It's about love," Guzzo says. "You can be a good parent if you don't have a lot of money. You can be with someone who can be a good parent."
Sociologist Kelly Musick of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who studies cohabiting couples with children, says she's noticed women with more education starting to have children outside of marriage. She says cohabiting used to be more common among women who didn't graduate from high school but it's becoming more common for those with a high school degree or some college.
"You have women in that middle-educated group who want to start families and potentially don't find themselves in a stable enough economic position to want to make the move into marriage," she says. "They're kind of starting their families in a two-parent context, but outside the bounds of marriage."
The government report also found racial and ethnic differences.
About 80% of first children born to black women were outside of marriage; 18% of these women were cohabiting. Among Hispanics, 53% of first children were born outside of marriage, and 30% of the women were cohabiting. Among white women, 34% of first children were born outside of marriage, 20% to cohabiters. Among Asians, 13% of first children were born outside of marriage; 7% of women were cohabiting.
The new data also found no significant changes since 2002 in some other areas:
•Average age at first birth (23 for women and 25 for men).
•Percentage that had a biological child (56% of women and 45% of men).
•Average number of children (1.3 births for women and 0.9 for men).
This rise in first births to cohabiting women parallels increases in first births to unmarried women overall. Of first births from 2006-10, 46% were to unmarried mothers, compared with 38% in 2002.
Kelly Raley, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin who has studied cohabiting couples with children, says there are more births to cohabiters because more people are cohabiting. But she says she doesn't think living together is the only factor.
"I'm not sure it's just about cohabitation," she says. "It just could be that it's OK now to have a kid outside of marriage."