Single Mothers on the Rise

Single Mothers on the Rise


A report from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey says there are more single moms than ever before and 6 in 10 are in their early 20s.

Single Mothers on the Rise

lanak / 123RF Photo

The birth rate for single women in 2007 was 80 percent higher than in 1980, with 20 percent of the increase taking place between 2002 and 2007. The information comes from Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women with a Recent Birth: 2011 and is based on separate survey questions on whether women have given birth to any children in the past 12 months and their marital status. The statistics in the report are presented at the national and state levels, with a separate table and map containing metropolitan area data.

Age and single moms“This is the first report from the Census Bureau showing geographic variation in recent births to unmarried women, as well as characteristics of the women such as educational attainment,” said Rose Kreider, a family demographer with the Census Bureau and one of the report’s authors. “The American Community Survey provides the nation with extensive data on the characteristics of recent mothers with a high level of geographic detail.”

In 2011, 4.1 million women reported that they had given birth in the last year. Of these women, 36 percent were unmarried at the time of the survey, an increase from 2005 when an estimated 31 percent of recent births were to unmarried women (2005 was the earliest year for which statistics are available from the American Community Survey).

“The increased share of unmarried recent mothers is one measure of the nation’s changing family structure,” Kreider said. “Non-marital fertility has been climbing steadily since the 1940s and has risen even more markedly in recent years.”

The American Community Survey asks the question on fertility for a variety of reasons, including to help project the future size of the population and to carry out various programs required by law, such as researching matters on child welfare.

The proportion of recent births to unmarried women varied widely by other socio-economic characteristics besides age. For example, more than half (57 percent) of women with less than a high school diploma in 2011, who had given birth in the past year were unmarried, the highest percentage among the education groups. In contrast, only 9 percent of recent mothers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were unmarried.

Similarly, there are wide variations when examining recent births by household income level. The share of unmarried women who gave birth ranged from 69 percent in household with incomes of less than $10,000 per year to 9 percent in households with annual income of $200,000 or more.

Other highlights:

  • Recent moms who were native-born were more likely to be unmarried than women born outside the United States (39 percent compared with 24 percent).
  • Among black women who had a birth in the last year, 68 percent were unmarried. The corresponding percentages were 11 percent for Asians, 43 percent for Hispanics and 26 percent for non-Hispanic whites.
  • The states (or equivalents) with the highest percentages of women with a birth in the last year who were unmarried include  the District of Columbia (51 percent), Louisiana (49 percent), Mississippi (48 percent) and New Mexico (48 percent).
  • Among the states with the lowest percentage of recent mothers who were unmarried were Utah (15 percent) and New Hampshire (20 percent).
  • There were a number of metropolitan areas with considerably higher percentages of unmarried recent moms than the national average. Among these were Flagstaff, Ariz. (75 percent); Greenville, N.C. (69 percent); Lima, Ohio (68 percent); Myrtle Beach, S.C. (67 percent); and Danville, Va. (67 percent).
  • Several metropolitan areas had considerably lower percentages of unmarried recent moms than the national average. Among these are Provo-Orem, Utah (8 percent); Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Wash. (12 percent); Bremerton-Silverdale, Wash. (13 percent); and Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Ariz. (13 percent).

The American Community Survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders.

Ever since Thomas Jefferson directed the first census in 1790, the census has collected detailed characteristics about our nation’s people. Questions about jobs and the economy were added 20 years later under James Madison, who said such information would allow Congress to “adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community,” and over the decades allow America “an opportunity of marking the progress of the society.”

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