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Percentage of Unmarried Mothers Increasing Worldwide

According to a new report, “Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States,” released by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. unmarried mothers gave birth to 4 out of every 10 babies born in the United States in 2007, a share that is increasing rapidly both here and abroad.

Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared — rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34. In 2007, women in their 20s had 60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.

Much of the increase in unmarried births has occurred among parents who are living together but are not married, cohabitation arrangements that tend to be less stable than marriages, studies show.

The pattern has been particularly pronounced among Hispanic women, climbing 20 percent from 2002 to 2006, the most recent year for which racial breakdowns are available. Eleven percent of unmarried Hispanic women had a baby in 2006, compared with 7 percent of unmarried black women and 3 percent of unmarried white women, according to government data drawn from birth certificates.

Out-of-wedlock births are also rising in much of the industrialized world: in Iceland, 66 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers; in Sweden, the share is 55 percent. (In other societies, though, the phenomenon remains rare — just 2 percent in Japan, for example.)

Children born out of wedlock in the United States tend to have poorer health and educational outcomes than those born to married women, but that may be because unmarried mothers tend to share those problems.

Some experts speculate that marriage or cohabitation cements financial and emotional bonds between children and fathers that survive divorce or separation, improving outcomes for children. But since familial instability is often damaging to children, they may be better off with mothers who never cohabitate or marry than with those who form unions that are later broken.

The District of Columbia and Mississippi had the highest rates of out-of-wedlock births in 2007: 59 percent and 54 percent, respectively. The lowest rate, 20 percent, was in Utah. In New York, the rate was 41 percent; in New Jersey, 34 percent; and in Connecticut, 35 percent.

What are the implications for educators? Are the children of unmarried mothers at greater risk of dropping out than those of married mothers? The data indicate that there is some correlation between single parents and children dropping out of school. Are the single parents who are giving birth from the lower economic group which also correlates to a higher dropout rate?

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