The stigma surrounding non-marital childbearing has been lifted in recent years in part due to changes in marriage and cohabitation beliefs. Coinciding with recent declines in overall U.S. birth rates, the number of infants born to unmarried women has started to decline after reaching its peak in 2007-2008. However, the number of babies born to unmarried, cohabiting couples has increased significantly from 41 percent in 2002 to 58 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Researchers from the CDC gathered their data using the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), which includes information on all births occurring in the United States. Unmarried women included in the survey were those who have never married, are widowed, or divorced. Women who were separated from their marital partner were still considered married women. Cohabitation was defined as an unmarried couple who have “a sexual relationship while sharing the same usual address.”
Preliminary data from 2013 found that 1,605,643 births were tied to unmarried women, which was seven percent lower than its highest peak of 1,726,566 births in 2008. While non-marital birth rates among women 35 and older have actually increased, rates among women under the age of 35 have experienced a sharp decline since 2007. Among age groups, the largest decline in non-marital birth rates between 2007 and 2012 occurred in teenagers, dropping from 30 percent to 14 in every 1,000 with girls aged 15 to 17. The rate of girls between 18 and 19 dropped from 26 percent to 46 per 1,000.
Comparing ethnic and racial backgrounds, non-marital birth rates among unmarried black and Hispanic women declined more so than unmarried white women. Hispanic women still had the highest non-marital birth rates in 2012 with 73 in every 1,000 births, but they also experienced the largest decline with 28 percent. Non-marital birth rates among black women declined by 11 percent between 2007 and 2012.
Although non-marital birth rates have declined in recent years, the number of babies being born to unmarried, cohabiting couples have increased considerably compared to non-cohabiting women. Non-marital birth rates among couples in a cohabiting relationship increased from 41 percent in 2002 to 58 percent between 2006 and 2010, even though around half of births to cohabiting women were intended at conception in both 2002 and 2006-2010.