Who Is Giving Birth in the U.S.?
New data from the Pew Research Center reveal some surprising changes in the decisions women make about marriage and family. Over the past 20 years, non-Hispanic white women had fewer children, and now account for just over half of US births. The birthrate among black teenage girls has fallen by 50%, and there are more births to women over 35 than women under 20. The average age for first-time motherhood is 25. Only 1 out of every 10 births occurs to a teen-aged girl.
It's far easier to calculate changes than to identify the reasons for them. As their labor force participation increases, women may delay giving birth for career advancement and/or financial security. New fertility technology, for those who cannot get pregnant, or waited too long to try, is making parenthood possible later in life for those who can afford it. Mothers today are likely to be better educated, which also may delay motherhood.
Two other pieces of information suggest contradictory trends. More women now choose not to have a child at all, and more mothers are unmarried. About 4 of every 10 US births is to a single woman. Marriage and motherhood are not nearly as connected as they once were, and statistics show that women sometimes choose one or the other without feeling compelled to do both. White and Hispanic births are now much more likely to be to single mothers. Again, the motivations driving these decisions were not the object of study. It seems a safe bet, though, that men's economic role in women's lives has somewhat diminished, and women may now decide it is socially acceptable and economically possible to remain single, or to become a mother while remaining single.
If American motherhood were not so fraught with economic peril, would more women give birth? Impossible to say. Are we better off if the women giving birth are more educated, older, and able to economically sustain themselves and their children? Absolutely. Perhaps the rising age of first-time motherhood, the falling rates of teen pregnancy, and the willingness of women, especially mothers, to participate in the paid labor force, all demonstrate that women can be trusted to make their own wise decisions when given the opportunity and resources to do so.
'Til next time,
Your (Wo)man in Washington
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