Unmarried Birthrates Decline – First Time Since 1940

By Glenn T. Stanton
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Profile shot of a mother holding her infant close to her face against the backdrop of trees and a sunrise
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Out-of-wedlock births have taken a marked and sustained decline of late.

It looks like we might be seeing a bit of a slow-down in two important family formation trends that have been moving in troubling upward directions over the last few decades. 

Divorce rates have leveled off in the last decade and holding but at a very high level. And here’s an encouraging trend in unmarried childbearing. However, cohabitation continues to explode and marriage rates decline.

Regarding out of wedlock births, a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics finds:

1) Steepest Decline Since 1940: Unmarried child-bearing has declined at its steepest rate since 1940 over the last few years, both in terms of rate and real numbers. The rate declined 14% from its all-time high in 2008.

Birth Rate Chart

2) Cohabiting Births Increasing Sharply: Increasingly, unmarried births are taking place in cohabiting relationships, 58% of all out-of-wedlock births today, up from 41% in 2002. These are also increasingly intended pregnancies, by 20% in 2002 to 29% in 2010.

Percentages of All Unmarried Births by Living Arrangement

Cohabitation Chart

3) Increases for Ages 35+: Age-wise, non-marital births have declined since 2007 for all women up to age 35, but have increased for those over 35. Specifically…

a) Declined 30% for ages 15-17 and 26% for ages 18-19.

b) For 20-24 year-olds declined by 19% and 13% for those aged 25-29.

c) However, they’ve risen 7% for women aged 35-39 and a remarkable 29% among 40-44 year-olds. (A theory for this curious outlier is presented in the conclusion below.)

4) Declines for All Races: Race-wise, declines are seen in all groups since 2007.

a) Hispanic women had the highest levels in 2007, but the greatest decline today at 28%.

b) Black women had an 11% decline.

c) Non-Hispanic White women had a 6% decline.

d) Asian and Pacific Islanders have always had the lowest levels in general, having a very minimal recent decline.

5) In terms of percentage of non-marital births to all births, that number has stayed largely the same at 40.6% in 2013 from 41% in 2009. (NOTE: This particular number remains unchanged – while all the others have changed dramatically – because it is a percentage of all births, which have been declining faster than non-marital births have.)


While the widely used “41% of all births are out-of-wedlock” is true and remains true, it fails to reflect that by rate and real numbers, the unmarried birth rate has seen marked  and somewhat sustained declines over the last few years.

Is “The Man Problem” at work here?

No one really knows the reason for this positive turn. But the sharp and continued increase of these births among cohabiting women and those in their later 30s and 40s is very curious.

I believe it has much to do with the difficulty women are having finding marriageable men today. If they cannot find men who they feel good about marrying, they will simply settle for living with them and getting a baby from them as they feel their biological clocks ticking down in these later ages.

And this is exactly what we are seeing in increasing numbers.

  • © 2014 Focus on the Family.

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    Ray Vander Lann

    Bringing Biblical Truth to a Broken Culture

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