Are Nonmarital Births on the Decline?

Are Nonmarital Births on the Decline?

This morning I'm seeing a lot of coverage of this new Centers for Disease Control report, which claims that the upward trend in nonmarital births has "reversed." Here's a chart:

Take a very close look at all three lines, though -- the two measures of births declined sharply, but the percentage of all births that were to unmarried women was basically flat. As the CDC explains:

The percentage of births to unmarried women declined slightly in 2013 to 40.6%, after holding steady from 2011 to 2012 at 40.7%; the percentage peaked in 2009 at 41.0%.

In other words, nonmarital births didn't really decline in particular; all births declined by about the same proportion. It's good to see the illegitimacy rate holding steady when it's been increasing for decades -- but it's hard to say whether this will be an enduring phenomenon, or whether the short-term factors that reduced childbearing across the board (especially the economy) had a more pronounced effect on unmarried women, forcing the line flat when it otherwise would have continued upward. Since unmarried mothers tend to be poorer and less educated, it's not hard to imagine that the recession would have played a bigger role in their childbearing decisions.

Another interesting fact from the report is that the unmarried women who do have children are increasingly likely to be in cohabiting relationships:

See previous RealClearPolicy coverage of marriage and childbearing here, here, and here.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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