Just married couple, holding hands and walking in nature

Births outside of marriage are declining in the United States, driven by a decline in births outside marriage among immigrant women and a flattening out of births outside marriage among American-born women.  The trend may represent the end of an era of increase in unmarried mothers.  The abortion rate has also been decreasing. 

According the Pew Research Centre, the newest available data (2014) finds that 33% of all births to foreign-born mothers were to unmarried women, down from a peak of 37% in 2008, and that the rate has steadied for U.S.-born women at 42%.  The disparity between U.S.-born women and immigrant women now stands at almost 10%, the largest since records became available 30 years ago.  At that time 21% of babies were born to unmarried women overall.

One reason births outside of marriage among immigrants has decreased is a declining share of babies born to Latin American mothers, and an increasing number to Asian mothers. New foreign-born mothers from Latin America were roughly four times as likely as mothers from Asia to be unmarried in 2014.  The shifting origin of immigrant mothers is due to both a decline in immigrants from Latin America and dramatically falling birth rates among Hispanic immigrants.

More than half of all babies born to foreign-born women in the U.S. are to those from nine countries and one U.S. territory: Mexico, China, India, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, Honduras, Vietnam, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  Among these, India stands out for its low share of births outside marriage (1%). New mothers from Honduras are most likely to be unmarried (66%).

Foreign-born mothers have not only helped to curb the share of babies born to unmarried mothers in the U.S., but they are also responsible for the long-term growth in annual births.  Growth in U.S. birth rates has been driven entirely by increasing numbers of babies born to immigrant women who are having disproportionately more children than their U.S.-born counterparts. In 2014, there were 58.3 births for every 1,000 U.S.-born women of childbearing age, and 84.2 among their foreign-born counterparts.  This is positive for a country struggling to recover from a childbearing slowdown sparked by the start of the recession in 2007.

It is also positive for U.S. babies if increasing numbers are being born into settled family environments with parents dedicated to each other and to them.  

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...