Uptick in recent years in American children born to unwed parents

As more Americans are living alone or delaying or rejecting marriage, “more children [are] born to unmarried parents.”

The percentage of first births to women living with a male partner jumped from 12% in 2002 to 22% in 2006-10 — an 83% increase. The percentage of cohabiting new fathers rose from 18% to 25%. The analysis, by the National Center for Health Statistics, is based on data collected from 2006 to 2010.

“We were a little surprised in such a short time period to see these increases,” says demographer Gladys Martinez, lead author of the report, based on face-to-face interviews with 12,279 women and 10,403 men ages 15-44.

The percentage of first births to cohabiting women tripled from 9% in 1985 to 27% for births from 2003 to 2010.

Karen Benjamin Guzzo, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, who studies cohabitation and fertility, says she thinks the big jump since 2002 is likely because of the recession, which was at its height from late 2007 to 2009, right in the middle of the federal data collection.

“I think it’s economic shock,” she says. “Marriage is an achievement that you enter into when you’re ready. But in the meantime, life happens. You form relationships. You have sex. You get pregnant. In a perfect world, they would prefer to be married, but where the economy is now, they’re not going to be able to get married, and they don’t want to wait to have kids.”…

Sociologist Kelly Musick of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who studies cohabiting couples with children, says she’s noticed women with more education starting to have children outside of marriage. She says cohabiting used to be more common among women who didn’t graduate from high school but it’s becoming more common for those with a high school degree or some college…

If sociologist Benjamin Guzzo is correct, does that mean that a good economy down the road (whenever that might be) would reverse this trend? I also wonder how this fits with sociologist Kelly Musick’s suggestion that cohabitation is spreading across class lines. How does this line up with recent arguments that marriage may be becoming a middle- or upper-class luxury?

Guzzo’s argument that marriage happens when two people are “ready” is also interesting. This fits with an argument that expectations for marriage partners are very high. So people don’t want to marry because they aren’t ready, economically or perhaps psychologically, but they do feel ready to have children in these situations and having a child is less tethered to being married.

Some of this seems to be happening quite rapidly and we just starting to to track it think about what it means.

One thought on “Uptick in recent years in American children born to unwed parents

  1. Pingback: Conservative viewpoint: Biggest change in modern society is “the entry of women into the labor market” | Legally Sociable

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