1.) What is driving the growth in unmarried-motherhood among whites and Hispanics?
2.) Implications of a Rising White Rate: Births to unmarried white mothers went from 1-in-6 births in 1990, to (likely) near 2-in-6 by 2010. What will it be in 2030? 2050? What is the endgame here? The end of marriage? What will this mean for society?
3.) Why the 1990s Lull?: Curious is that all groups’ rates were approximately flat in the mid to late 1990s. (Graphs: White, Black, Hispanic). The white rate, which showed highest growth of all groups during this period, grew only 1.3 points from 1994-2000 [or 0.2 points per year]. In the 2000s the white rate soared, from 22.1% to very-likely over-30% in 2010 [0.8-0.9 points per year]. Why did unmarried-motherhood stop growing in the 1990s? Why did it soar again in the 2000s?
4.) The Curiously-Static Asian Rate: Why has the the Asian rate stayed at the same low rate, while everyone else’s is rising?
5.) The 1994 Hispanic Spike, Why? : The Hispanic rate spiked in 1994. Observe the Hispanic rate 1992-1996: 39.1–40.0–43.1–40.8–40.7. No other groups’ rates did this in 1994. What could explain this, beyond something mundane like transcription error?
6.) Single parent households : Elsewhere, a commenter named Mark points out that many of these births are still to couples, stable households, just unmarried ones. To what extent is this true? On the other hand, we see that 74% of households with children in the most-heavily-black parts of the Washington-DC region are run by single parents. This tracks the black unmarried-motherhood rate quite well.
7.) Blacks, the Stablest of All? : Speaking of the Black rate, it seems to have maxed-out at some point before 1990. It showed ~0 net growth 1994-2010. Blacks have spoken of their “talented tenth” for over a century — i.e. those Blacks who could compete at the highest levels with Whites; Is it realistic to use this as evidence for a similar, ~75-25 “moral quarter” within the black community?
A Post-Marriage World?
A poll in November 2010 found that 4-in-10 Americans believe marriage to be “obsolete”. A few months before that, “40% of Births to Unmarried Mothers” was the headline. That was 2008 data. The statistics were released in 2010, and are broken down by race above.
Commentator Lawrence Auster notes that one almost never hears any criticism of this phenomenon anymore from “conservatives”. It does seem highly anachronistic today, doesn’t it, to actually say or even write “the illegitimacy rate”, or — God forbid — “bastardy rate”.
It was not always like this. In the USA, among Whites, the share of births to unmarried mothers was ~2% through the 1950s, a rate well-established among Northwest-Europeans for centuries (see below). The USA’s White rate started rising in the mid-1960s, and has not stopped rising since. (Source [pdf]):
Whites — USA
Share of Births to Unmarried Mothers
1990: 16.9% [WNH]
2010: ~30% [possible]
Note that 1990 is the first year ‘White Non-Hispanic is delineated as a category. For years before 1990, figures are inflated by perhaps several points in the years closest to 1990, as Hispanics have always had higher rate of unmarried-motherhood in the USA.
In an even-wider historical perspective, we find that births to unmarried mothers in 1700s England were predictably low, and about what they were for Whites in the USA as late as the early 1960s (“Bastardy and Prenuptial Pregnancy in a Cheshire Town During the Eighteenth Century”, by Grace Wyatt):
England: Share of Births to Unmarried Mothers
The researcher speculates that the rise in illegitimacy from the early to late 1700s may be explained by a crackdown on “secret marriages” in 1753. Whatever the truth there, this ~5%-rate (give or take) seems to have held out among European-Mankind from the 1700s through the 1950s: One source [The Fortnightly Review, Vol. 40, Chapter: "Statistics of Morality", 1886], claims that 7% of all births in 1870s-Europe were illegitimate. But the rate reached as high as 50% in certain large cities (Rome, Munich, and Vienna) in the 1870s.
Interestingly, Ms. Wyatt, cited above, also reports on “baptisms recorded less than 9 months after marriage” for a selection of parishes in England:
Pregnancy before marriage was already occurring in 1-in-3 cases in Britain in Napoleonic times. The difference? Then, the lovers got married in 87% of cases in which an unmarried woman becoming pregnant (.342/.392); presumably in the other cases, the man was already married.
But Europe quickly surpassed the USA’s white “illegitimacy” rate (graph from CDC):
Once again, caution is in order, as Mark pointed out (see above). There is not necessarily an epidemic of ‘single mothers’ in, say, Sweden, in the same way there is in Detroit. The Swedish mothers of today are probably still in stable relationships, but just choose not to marry for reasons that cannot be explained easily with charts and data.
Japan‘s rate, at 8.8% in 1900 because of the practice of keeping concubines, fell to around 1% by the 1950s and has hardly moved since.
While Britain‘s overall rate was 41.5% in 2003 [link] (which is approximately the USA’s rate in 2010), what is interesting is the differing roles nonwhites play. In the UK, the white rate is higher than the nonwhite rate:
The area of England with the lowest bastardy rate? Swinging London (34.5%), where the large Asian and African (though not Caribbean) immigrant communities frown on illegitimacy. And the highest rate in England? The very-white North-East, at 53.5%. Source
In Latin-America, births to unmarried mothers are very high. By the late 1990s, over 70% of births in El Salvador and Panama were to unmarried mothers. 48.2% in Costa Rica. (Source [pdf]).