Non-Marital Births: Reasons for Increases

  • Delays in marriage have contributed to the increase in non-marital childbearing. Currently, the median age at first marriage – the age at which half of all women get married for the first time– is 26, a year older than the median age at first birth (25). For comparison, in 1980, the median age at marriage was one year younger than the median age at birth (at age 22 vs. age 23).
  • Increases in cohabitation have played a role as well. Many children born outside of marriage are, in fact, born to two parent families. Estimates suggest that just over 50 percent of all non-marital births occur to cohabiting couples.
  • Although the vast majority of unmarried couples who give birth say that they want to get married, many of these couples cite economic barriers to marriage. Research finds that people, particularly low-income women, want to be financially secure before they get married rather than face economic insecurities in a marriage. This is increasingly challenging given the current economic climate.
  • Finally, it is also the case that the stigma against non-marital childbearing has declined at the same time that expectations about marriage and cohabitation have changed.

Many children will continue to be born outside of marriage into a variety of living situations. To promote child well-being, healthy relationships among all family members––including those living outside the household––should be supported and financial supports from both parents should be available to each child. In addition, efforts to help couples prevent unintended pregnancies continue to be critical; and these efforts need to recognize that many of these couples are not teens—but young adults.

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