Publication Date:

Sep 24, 2018

Key facts about births to unmarried women

• The percentage of births to unmarried women has declined slightly since 2009 and was at 40 percent in 2016.
• In 2016, non-Hispanic black and American Indian/Alaskan Native women had the highest proportion of births to unmarried women, at 70 and 66 percent, respectively.
• Younger mothers are more likely to be unmarried when they give birth: 89 percent of teen mothers are unmarried, compared to 23 percent of mothers in their early 30s.

Trends in births to unmarried women

The proportion of births that occur to unmarried women has increased greatly in recent decades, rising from 5 percent in 1960 to 32 percent in 1995. After some stability in the mid-1990s, there was a gradual rise in this percentage from 1997 through 2008, from 32 to 41 percent. Since then, the rate appears to have stabilized, sitting at 40 percent in 2016. The long-term trend toward nonmarital births may be attributed, in part, to increases in cohabiting unions and births within such relationships. Data for 2016 show a static or increasing trend among all age groups in this indicator (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

There are large differences by race and Hispanic origin in the share of births to unmarried women, with much lower rates of nonmarital births to non-Hispanic white women and Asian or Pacific Islander women, relative to other groups. In 2016, 70 percent of all births to non-Hispanic black women, 66 percent to American Indian or Alaskan native women, and 53 percent to Hispanic women occurred outside of marriage, compared to 29 percent of births to non-Hispanic white women and 17 percent among Asian or Pacific Islander women (Appendix 1).

*Hispanic mothers may be of any race. Estimates for white and black mothers in this report exclude Hispanic women.

Differences by age

Younger women are more likely than older women to give birth outside of marriage. In 2016, the great majority of teenage births were to unmarried women: 99.8 percent for teens under age 15, and 89 percent for 15- to 19-year olds. This compares with 66 percent of births to women ages 20 to 24, 38 percent among women ages 25 to 29, 23 percent among women ages 30 to 34, 22 percent among women ages 35 to 39, and 26 percent among women ages 40 and older. From 1960 to 1970, the percentage of nonmarital births increased fastest among 15- to 19-year-olds. However, the fastest growth was seen among 20- to 24-year-olds from 1970 to 2000; and among 30- to 34-year-olds from 2000 to 2016 (Appendix 1).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

• 2016 state-level estimates for the percentage of births to unmarried mothers, by race and Hispanic origin, are available from: Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Osterman, M. J. K., Curtin, S. C., & Mathews, T. J. (2018). Births: Final data for 2016: Supplemental tables [Table I-7]. National Vital Statistics Reports, 67(1). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr67/nvsr67_01_tables.pdf.

• Estimates for the percentage of births to unmarried women, 1990¬–2015, are available for all states and the 50 largest cities in the United States. from the KIDS COUNT Data Center: KIDS COUNT Data Center. (2017). Births to unmarried women [Table]. Baltimore, MD: Annie E Casey Foundation. Retrieved from http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/7-births-to-unmarried-women?loc=1&loct=2.

International estimates

• International estimates for the number and percentage of births to unmarried women from 1990–1998 are available from the UN Statistics Division at http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/dyb/dybnat.htm (Table 13).

• Estimates for European countries through 2016 are available from EuroStat at http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=tps00018&plugin=1.

• Estimates for the percentage of births to unmarried women in select countries are also available from “Changing patterns of nonmarital childbearing in the United States” at www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db18.pdf (Figure 6).

Data and appendices

Data source

• Data for 2007–2016: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2018). CDC WONDER [Data tool]. Hyattsville, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://wonder.cdc.gov/natality-current.html.

• Data for 2000–2006: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2002–2009). Births: Final data for 2000–2006. Hyattsville, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/nvsr.htm.

• Data by race and Hispanic origin for 1980–1989: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2014). Health, United States, 2013 [Table 5]. Hyattsville, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/previous.htm#tables.

• All other data for 1960–1999: Ventura, S. J. & Bachrach, C. A. (2000). Nonmarital childbearing in the United States, 1940–1999 [Table 4]. National Vital Statistics Reports, 48(16). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr48/nvs48_16.pdf.

Raw data source

Birth Data, National Vital Statistics System.
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss.htm

Appendices

Appendix 1. Percentage of All Births that Were to Unmarried Women, by Race and Hispanic Origin, and Age: Selected Years 1960–2016

Background

Definition

In 49 states and the District of Columbia, births to unmarried women are identified by a question such as “Mother married?” on the birth certificate. In New York, marital status is inferred. For more detailed information, see the User Guide to the 2010 Natality Public Use File at ftp://ftp.cdc.gov/pub/Health_Statistics/NCHS/Dataset_Documentation/DVS/natality/UserGuide2010.pdf.

For 2016, racial/ethnic estimates were calculated using bridged race estimates to remain comparable with previous years. Single-race estimates, aligned with the one race reported on the infant’s birth certificate, are available at https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/datarequest/D66.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Births to Unmarried Women. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/births-to-unmarried-women.