Increase in Unmarried Childbearing Also Seen In Other Countries

For Immediate Release: May 13, 2009

Contact: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, Office of Communication (301) 458-4800


Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States. Data Brief, Number 18 8 pp. [PDF – 586 KB]

The proportion of births to unmarried mothers in the United States has risen steeply over the past few decades, consistent with patterns in other countries, a report from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics shows.

In March, CDC reported that about 4 in 10 births in the United States in 2007 were to unmarried mothers. While a great deal of focus has been placed on births to unmarried teens, 6 out of 10 births to women between the ages of 20 and 24 were among unmarried women in 2007.

The trend in unmarried childbearing was fairly stable from the mid-1990s to 2002, but has shown a steep increase between 2002 and 2007. Between 1980 and 2007, the proportion of births to unmarried women in the United States has more than doubled, from 18 percent to 40 percent.

The report, “Data Brief #18: Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the U.S.,” includes a section on international comparisons. The section shows the U.S. percentage of out-of-wedlock births falls into the middle range among the countries studied (data for Iceland, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, and Canada are for 2006).

  • Iceland (66 percent), Sweden (55 percent), Norway (54 percent), France (50 percent), Denmark (46 percent) and the United Kingdom (44 percent) all have higher proportions of births to unmarried mothers than the United States.
  • Ireland (33 percent), Germany and Canada (30 percent), Spain (28 percent), Italy (21 percent) and Japan (2 percent) have lower percentages than the United States.
  • The Netherlands (40 percent) has the same percentage of out-of-wedlock births as the United States but its percentage is 10 times higher than in 1980, when only 4 percent of Netherlands’ births were to unmarried mothers.
  • All countries examined showed substantial increases in the proportion of births to unmarried mothers between 1980 and 2007. The countries with the biggest increases, after the Netherlands, are Spain (4 percent to 28 percent), Ireland (5 percent to 33 percent), and Italy (4 percent to 21 percent).

The report also looks in depth at U.S. birth rates among unmarried women by age, race and ethnicity.

  • Birth rates among unmarried U.S. mothers are highest for women in their early 20s (80 births per 1,000 unmarried women aged 20-24), and lowest for teens under 18 and for women over age 35.
  • Birth rates among unmarried mothers are highest for Hispanic women (106 births per 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women), followed by non-Hispanic black women (72 per 1,000) and non-Hispanic white women (32 per 1,000).
  • The overwhelming majority of births to teenagers are nonmarital. Among teens aged 15-17, 93 percent of births were nonmarital in 2007, while among teens aged 18-19, 84 percent of births were nonmarital.
  • In 2007, 45 percent of births to women in their 20s were to unmarried women. Sixty percent of births to women aged 20-24 were nonmarital in 2007, up from 52 percent in 2002. Nearly one third of births to women aged 25-29 were nonmarital in 2007, up from one fourth in 2002.