Births to Unmarried Women

Publication Date:

May 08, 2019

Key facts about births to unmarried women

  • In 2017, the share of births to unmarried women had the biggest one-year decline since 2009, from 40 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2017.
  • In 2017, the highest proportions of births to unmarried women were among non-Hispanic black and American Indian/Alaskan Native women, at 67 and 62 percent, respectively.
  • Younger mothers are more likely to be unmarried when they give birth. In 2017, 81 percent of teen mothers were unmarried, compared to 21 percent of mothers in their early 30s.

Trends in births to unmarried women

The proportion of births that occur to unmarried women greatly increased over the past 50 years, rising from 5 percent in 1960 to 32 percent in 1995. After some stability in the mid-1990s, there was a gradual rise from 1997 through 2008, from 32 to 41 percent. The rate appeared to stabilize again for a few years, before declining to 35 percent in 2017. The long-term trend toward more non-marital births may be attributed, in part, to increases in cohabiting unions and births within such relationships. The decline in births to unmarried women in 2017 occurred across all tabulated age and racial/ ethnic groups. For Asian or Pacific Islander women, it was the lowest on record (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

There are large differences associated with race and Hispanic origin in the share of births to unmarried women, reflecting aspects of culture; in addition, in some cases, these differences reflect systematic efforts, stemming from racist ideology, to disrupt families. Non-Hispanic white women and Asian or Pacific Islander women have lower rates of nonmarital birth than other groups. In 2017, 67 percent of all births to non-Hispanic black women, 62 percent to American Indian or Alaskan native women, and 39 percent to Hispanic women occurred outside of marriage, compared with 27 percent for non-Hispanic white women, and 13 percent for 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 to give birth outside of marriage than older women. In 2017, the great majority of teenage births were to unmarried women: 92 percent for teens under age 15, and 81 percent for 15- to 19-year olds. This compares with 59 percent of births to women ages 20 to 24, 35 percent for women ages 25 to 29, 21 percent for women ages 30 to 34, 19 percent for women ages 35 to 39, and 21 percent for women ages 40 and higher. From 1960 to 1970, the fastest growth in the percentage of non-marital births was among 15- to 19-year-olds. However, from 1970 to 2000, the fastest growth was among 20- to 24-year-olds; from 2000 to 2017, the fastest growth was among 25- to 29-year-olds (Appendix 1).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

  • 2017 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., Driscoll, A. K., & Drake, P. (2018). Births: Final Data for 2017: Supplemental tables [Table I-7]. National Vital Statistics Reports, 67(8). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr67/nvsr67_08_tables-508.pdf#I07.
  • Estimates for the percentage of births to unmarried women, 1990-2016, are available for all states and the 50 largest cities in the U.S. 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

Data and appendices

Data source

  • Data for 2007-2017: 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 1960-2017

Background

Definition

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 and 2017, 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. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/births-to-unmarried-women.