New Trends in U.S. Births and Fertility Rates

Washington, DC—Teen birth rates have declined to the lowest rate ever reported in the United States. The rates are down by nearly one-third since 1991, from 61.8 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 to 41.6 per 1,000 in 2003.  However, the percentage of births to unmarried women has steadily increased in the past few decades with over one-quarter of births to women ages 25 to 29 and over half of the births to women ages 20 to 25 to unmarried women.


According to three new DataBank Indicators released by Child Trends:

the trends in U.S. births and fertility have shifted. Take, for example, nonmarital births. The proportion of all births that are nonmarital rose in 2003. While the numbers had been increasing for several decades, the rapid rise stopped in the mid-1990s and the proportion of nonmarital births stayed fairly stationary for several years. However, the proportion then rose again from 32.8 percent in 1998 to 34.6 percent in 2003.


Additionally, the number of nonmarital births and nonmarital birth rate rose among women 20 and older. More than seven in ten nonmarital births are to mothers age 20 or older. These trends are significant and indicate the increase in the proportion of births that are nonmarital is being driven by women age 20 and older.


Among teens, both the nonmarital teen birth rate and the number of nonmarital births have dropped over the last decade. The proportion of nonmarital births for this group has stayed high (81.3 percent in 2003), which reflects a decline in marital births among teens that is even steeper than the decline in nonmarital births.


According to related statistics cited in the Child Trends DataBank Indicators: 

  • The long-term trend towards more nonmarital births may be attributed to, in part, an increase in cohabitating unions and births within such relationships.
  • 40 percent of nonmarital births occurred to women who were cohabitating in the mid-1990s, compared with 29 percent in the early 1980s and 49 percent in recent estimates.