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Nonmarital Childbearing

Nonmarital Childbearing In Developed Nations

An examination of nonmarital childbearing trends in developed nations dramatic increase between 1970 and 1999 (see Table 1 and Figure 1). The United States, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden have witnessed their nonmarital childbearing rates tripling, and in some cases (Denmark, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom), quadrupling or more during this period.

Nonmarital childbearing trends in some developed nations (especially Canada and the United Kingdom) are comparable to those in the United States. In 1995, the proportion of all births to unmarried women was about one-third in the United States and Canada, but was as high as 55 percent in Sweden, and 45 percent in Denmark. Developed countries with lower nonmarital births were: Japan (1% in 1995), Italy (9%), Germany (20%), and the Netherlands (23%). However, the United States has relatively higher nonmarital childbearing among teenagers, even compared with countries

TABLE 1 Percentage of nonmarital births in selected industrialized nations: 1970–1999
  Percentage of nonmarital births
Country 1970 1980 1990 1995 1999
11980 through 1990 excludes Newfoundland. After 1990 a significant number of births are not allocated according to marital status, resulting in an understatement of the proportion of births to unmarried women.
2Prior to 1990, data are for former West Germany.
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998. Council of Europe, Recent Demographic Developments in Europe, 2000. Statistics Canada, Canada Year Book 2001. S. J. Ventura and C. A. Bachrach, "Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940–99." National Vital Statistics Reports.
United States 11 18 28 32 33
Canada1 10 13 24 26 353
Denmark 11 33 46 46 45
France 7 11 30 37 403
Germany2 6 8 11 16 204
Italy 2 4 6 8 9
Japan 1 1 1 1  
Netherlands 2 4 11 16 23
Sweden 18 40 47 53 55
United Kingdom 8 12 28 34 39

where the total nonmarital childbearing rates are higher than those in the United States (Singh and Darroch 2000).

International trends of increasing nonmarital childbearing have not been observed in some developed nations. The nonmarital childbearing rate in Japan is among the lowest in developed nations and had remained stable between 1970 and 1995. Cultural influences that serve to distinguish Japan from the nations discussed above may be an important explanation for this finding. In addition to an emphasis on fertility within marriage, Japan is also experiencing a decline in total fertility due to sociocultural changes and women's increased labor force participation (Iwao 2001).

Nonmarital births in the United States. Increasing numbers of births to unmarried mothers began to be a major concern in the United States in the late 1960s. There were about 224,000 children born in 1960 to unmarried mothers (Furstenberg 1991), but by 1991, that number had risen to more than 1.2 million (Ventura and Martin 1993). Nonmarital births increased from 11 percent of all births in 1970 to 33 percent in 1994 (Ventura and Bachrach 2000). The nonmarital birthrate in the United States FIGURE 1 has remained approximately the same from 1994 to 1999 (Terry-Humen, Menlove, and Moore 2001).

The United States has traditionally had a high birthrate among adolescents (Singh and Darroch 2000). Approximately 80 percent of teenage births in the United States are nonmarital (Terry-Humen et al. 2001), but teens account for only 29 percent of all nonmarital births in this country. The teenage percentage of all nonmarital births has fallen from 50 percent in 1970 to 29 percent in 1999. On the other hand, the percentage of all nonmarital births that occurred among women aged twenty-five and older rose from 18 percent in 1970 to 34 percent in 1999 (Ventura and Bachrach 2000).

Nonmarital childbearing in the United States varies across ethnic groups. In 1970, the nonmarital birthrate was 13.9 per 1,000 women for white women and 95.5 for African-American women; this large racial difference has narrowed over time. In 1998, the nonmarital birthrate per 1,000 women was 37.5 for white women, 73.3 for African-American women, and 90.1 for Latina women (Ventura and Bachrach 2000). Latina women have the highest nonmarital birthrate among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States (Ventura and Bachrach 2000).

One explanation for the nonmarital birth trends in the United States is the rise of cohabiting unions. The proportion of cohabiting unions increased from 29 percent in the 1980 to 1984 period to 39 percent in the 1990 to 1994 period. The percentage of nonmarital births from cohabiting unions varies by ethnic group. In 1994, Latinos had the highest rate (53%) of nonmarital births resulting from cohabiting unions, followed by whites (50%), and African Americans (22%) (Bumpass and Lu 2000). Another explanation for the high non-marital birthrate in the United States is the decline in marriage rates for women aged eighteen to forty-four, especially among women in the twenty and older age category. For example, the percentage of unmarried women in the twenty-five to twenty-nine age group increased from 16 percent in 1970 to 45 percent in 1998 (Ventura and Bachrach 2000). Declining marriage rates for women are an indication of broad socioeconomic changes. The rise in cohabiting unions, later age of marriage, and a growing tendency to never marry (Abma et al. 1997) are some of the changes that have contributed to increasing trends in nonmarital childbearing. In addition, when faced with a non-marital pregnancy, fewer women today marry before the birth of the child than in the past (Terry-Humen et al. 2001).

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodNonmarital Childbearing - Nonmarital Childbearing In Developing Nations, Nonmarital Childbearing In Developed Nations, Risk Factors Associated With Nonmarital Childbearing In Developed Nations