News Release

Dramatic racial and ethnic differences exist in the percentage of nonmarital births, even among the most educated women

Aug 08, 2018

A new report from Child Trends reproductive health and family formation experts Elizabeth Wildsmith and Jennifer Manlove finds that differences in the percentage of nonmarital births by level of education are substantially smaller for black and Hispanic women than for white women. In 2016:

  • Fifty-nine (59) percent of births to white women who did not finish high school or obtain a GED were nonmarital; this is 8.5 times higher than the percentage of nonmarital births to white women with a bachelor’s degree or higher (7 percent).
  • Births to black women who did not finish high school or obtain a GED are only 2.5 times more likely to occur outside of marriage than births to black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher (82 percent compared to 33 percent).
  • Among Hispanic women, 61 percent of births to women who did not finish high school or obtain a GED occurred outside of marriage, compared to 20 percent of births to women with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“While higher levels of education are associated with a lower percentage of births occurring outside of marriage for all women, this link is not as strong for black and Hispanic women as it is for white women,” said Wildsmith, an expert on reproductive health and family formation. “One reason for this is the changing role of marriage over the past few decades. Women are waiting longer to get married, though not necessarily to live with a partner, and fewer women are ever marrying at all. The delays and declines in marriage have been steepest for black and Hispanic women. One factor driving this decline is the desire for more economic stability prior to getting married—a domain in which nonwhites face the most challenges and barriers.”

The brief also finds that the percentage of births outside of marriage more than doubled from 1990 to 2016 for women ages 18 or older with at least a high school degree or GED.

  • From 29 to 59 percent among women with a high school degree or GED
  • From 17 to 43 percent among women with an associate degree or some college
  • From 5 to 10 percent among women with a bachelor’s degree or higher

The percentages of nonmarital births are even higher among 20- to 29-year-olds. Among women in this age range with a bachelor’s degree or higher, almost half (48 percent) of births to black women occurred outside of marriage, compared with 9 percent of births to white women and 29 percent of births to Hispanic women.

“Although many children born outside of marriage will do just fine, research shows they are more likely to be poor, to have unstable living environments, and to face challenges like aggression and depression than children born to married parents,” said Manlove, co-director of teen pregnancy and reproductive health research at Child Trends. “Promoting healthy and stable relationships among unmarried parents and helping couples avoid unplanned pregnancies are important parts of helping kids grow to their full potential.”