Driven by a decline in childbirth among teens, African American and Latina women, the United States has seen the steepest decline in births among unmarried women since the trend began a steady increase in the 1940s and surged after 1980.
In 2013, 40.6% of American babies were born to unmarried women, according to a report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Center for Health Statistics. That's twice as high as in 1980 and 18 times as high as it was in 1940, but down from its peak of 41% in 2009.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that in 2002, 41% of unmarried women giving birth to a child did not share a household with a partner. In fact, 41% of such women did live with a domestic partner, a number that rose to 58% from 2006 to 2010.
While birth rates among unmarried teens and young women (ages 20 to 24) declined by close to 30%, the nation's health statisticians observed a rise in birth rates among unmarried women ages 35 to 44 between 2002 and 2012.
Latinas had the highest rate of any ethnic group of nonmarital childbirth in 2012, with 73 of 1,000 such women of childbearing age giving birth outside of marriage. But this group also saw the greatest decline -- 28% -- in nonmarital childbirth between 2007 and 2012. Black women were less likely than Latinas to have given birth outside of marriage in 2012 (71 in 1,000 African American women of childbearing age did so), and that rate marked an 11% decline since 2007.
Among non-Hispanic white women of childbearing age, 32 per 1,000 had a child in 2012 outside of marriage -- a rate which was also down since 2007.
At the same time, the report notes that more of those giving birth outside of marriage are in fact part of a cohabitating union, a possible sign that more babies born to unmarried women will have access to more resources and stronger support systems as they grow older. In 2002, 41% of unmarried women giving birth shared a household with a partner. Between 2006 and 2010, 58% of such women were living under the same roof with a partner.
In both 2002 and between 2006 and 2010, roughly half of those pregnancies were unintended. But a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics suggested that on several measures of father involvement, married men differed little from cohabitating male partners.
Why is the rate of childbirth outside of marriage a health matter? Infant mortality and adverse birth outcomes with potential long-term consequences -- including low birth weight and preterm birth -- are more common among babies born to unmarried mothers. And unmarried mothers -- along with their children -- are more likely to live in or near poverty than are married women, a status that can have negative effects on a wide range of health measures -- including metabolic function, cognitive performance and mental health -- as those babies grow older.
Women's health? I'm all over it. Follow me on Twitter at @LATmelissahealy.