Share of births to unmarried mothers, by race, 1990-2010

On social change in the 1990s and 2000s:

Share of births to unmarried mothers in the usa by race to 2008

1.) What is driving the growth in unmarried motherhood among Whites and Hispanics?

2.) Implications of a rising White unmarried-motherhood 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”?  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 most stable 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”.

Historical Perspective
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

1942: 1.7%
1947: 1.9%
1952: 1.6%
1957: 2.0%
1962: 2.7%
1967: 4.9%
1972: 6.0%
1977: 8.2%
1982: 12.3%
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
1700: 2%
1725: 2%
1750: 3%
1775: 5%
1800: 5%

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:

1650-1699: 16.2%
1700-1749: 21.3%
1750-1799: 29.9%
1800-1819: 34.2%

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.

International perspective
In Europe, the move towards unmarried-motherhood seems to have begun later (see this chart from here).

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]).


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20 Responses to Share of births to unmarried mothers, by race, 1990-2010

  1. JL says:

    4.) The Curiously-Static Asian Rate : Why has the the Asian rate stayed at the same low rate, while everyone else’s is rising?

    This is probably because of the rising number of Asian immigrants. First-generation immigrants from Asia are not acculturated to Western norms. You should look at the numbers for Asians born in America.

    • Hail says:

      JL wrote: This is probably because of the rising number of Asian immigrants

      That makes sense. I’d have several further questions:

      1.) What share of “Asian” births are to immigrants, what share to first-generation born in the USA, what share to Asians of multi-generational U.S.-nativity? What is the “unmarried mother %” for each group? (Such detailed information may be impossible to find. I will try at some point. If anyone else knows it, please share!).

      2.) What are the trends in “share of births to unmarried mothers” in Asian countries? (For Japan it has risen from 1% in the 1950s to 2% today).

      3.) What type of Asian immigrant does the USA get, that is to say: Is it a straight cross-section of the home-nation, more socially-“conservative” than back home’s avg., or more socially-“liberal”?

  2. Hail says:

    Some commentary on why marriage has declined:

    In the modern West…the state… is dedicated to destroying marriage and families.

    The application of [social-welfare] policies to the black American lower class has produced clear and unambiguous results. Around the time those results were becoming clear — about a generation ago, and a generation after the beginning of the “government aid” to the blacks — similar policies were being applied to the white middle class. Family dysfunction is proceeding as one might expect, on a much broader scale. From what I understand, the process is more advanced in England than in the USA. Within a generation, in neither country will the broader white population be capable of maintaining the society their grandfathers had.

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  4. Hail says:

    Update, of sorts:

    Why has the Asian rate not risen?
    Commenter JL wrote above that the Asian rate has stayed steady because a high share of Asian mothers are foreign-born, and they are much more traditional. I have comes across data proving this to be true.

    Share of Births to Unmarried Mothers, 2006 [source]:
    32% : Share of births to unmarried, U.S.-born Asian mothers
    11% : Share of births to unmarried, foreign-born Asian mothers.

    — These stats imply that 74% of women of Asian descent who bore children in 2006 in the USA were foreign-born. This seems surprisingly-high, to me.
    — Understand, this 74%-figure is not the share of the Asian population in the USA which is foreign-born. Rather, it is the foreign-born share of those who gave birth to a baby that year.
    — Presumably, foreign-born Asians have a higher fertility rate than US-born Asians, which increases their share of “Asian motherhood” to 74%.

    — Note especially, that the US-born Asian rate (32%) for 2006 was noticeably higher than the white rate (26-27%), which is surprising. Is this evidence that, “all else being equal”, Asian traditionality might be natively lower than European traditionality? (Despite decades of hard pushing, only one-in-four white births were to unmarried mothers in the 2000s. Subject to the same pressures, one-in-three babies to native-born Asian women were born out of wedlock).

    • SC says:

      I think what is happening is that Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, Laotians, and Hmongs are outbreeding the Chinese/Japanese/Koreans. They really need to put Pacific Islanders in their own category.

  5. George Morrison says:

    Immigration (particularly in light of the uncertain numbers concerning illegal immigration) makes it very faulty to make conclusions about out of wedlock birth shares by race. So does the increasing popularity of intentional single motherhood among professional women.

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  7. Hail says:

    From the entry:
    a commenter named Mark points out that many of these births are still to couples, stable households, just unmarried ones” — and, implicitly, if children are still being raised in stable households with the mother and father present, one could say there is no problem.

    The commenter was particularly talking about Whites. It turns out he’s wrong, at least as of the 2004 data I have come across, and summarize below:

    Women who were in stable but non-married relationships,
    who gave birth to babies out of wedlock, and who still
    live with the baby’s father as of the child’s 5th birthday

    50-55% : Whites
    50-55% : US-born Hispanics
    35-40% : Blacks

    Graph from here

  8. Multi says:

    Great topic. I need to spend a while studying more. Thank you for fantastic information..

  9. Anonymous says:

    it’s called a welfare check.

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  11. Sugar says:

    Did I not see

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  15. One of the reasons for a massive increase is so obvious: The Marriage Penalty. In socialist countries, the benefits are very generous. In USA, a lot of minorities avoid marriage to maximize welfare benefits.

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  18. Hail says:

    This old post is getting much renewed attention in light of the abortion debate in 2022 after the Supreme Court allowed states to ban abortion again.

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