"41 percent of births were to unmarried women in 2008"

Given everything that we know about how much more difficult it is for women to raise children on their own, this is depressing news. There are many reasons for this, but I have argued in the past that a significant portion of this is due to the liberalization of abortion rules.

New mothers in the U.S. are increasingly older and better educated than they were two decades ago, according to a study on the state of American motherhood released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

But that doesn't mean women are waiting for the right moment: The study also found that half of mothers surveyed said parenthood "just happened."

While most women giving birth are doing it within the context of marriage, researchers said a record 41 percent of births were to unmarried women in 2008. That's up from 28 percent in 1990, according to the study, "The New Demography of American Motherhood." The trend crossed major racial and ethnic groups.

Nearly 14 percent of mothers of newborns were 35 or older two years ago - and only about 10 percent were in their teens. The age trend was reversed in 1990, when teens had a 13 percent share of births.

"I think everyone will welcome a decline in births to teens," said D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer on the study. "It's notable that the population of teens is larger than it used to be, so there were more who could have become teen mothers."

Today, one in seven babies is born to a mother at least 35 years old. In 1990, one in 11 had a mother in that age group.

Most mothers of newborns (54 percent) had at least some college education in 2008, an increase from 41 percent in 1990. Among mothers 35 or older, 71 percent had at least some college education.

Improvements in medical care and fertility treatment, along with marriage and childbearing postponed to seek additional education, all factor into the shifts.

"The rise in women's education levels has changed the profile of the typical mother of a newborn baby," the report said. Cohn added that a lower share of mothers ended their education after high school, "so some of those mothers who would have been high school graduates in 1990 have some college education today."

The report is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, along with a telephone survey in April 2009 of about 1,000 parents, likely parents and other adults of both genders.

Overall, there were 4.3 million births in the U.S. in 2008, compared with 4.2 million in 1990. The number had risen each year from 2003 to 2007, then dipped in an apparent link to the economic downturn, the researchers said.

When American parents are asked why they decided to have a child, most cite "The joy of having children," the study said. For nearly half of parents, though, an important explanation is: "It wasn't a decision; it just happened." . . .

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Blogger Jim said...

I'd argue that this has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. It has to do with the fact that women no longer need the voluntary assistance of the father to raise the child.

If you abolished child support, mothers would require the good will of the father instead of relying on state enforcement of child support laws. If you abolished social programs that paid out for each child, women would have to constrain their child birthing activity or rely upon the good will of the fathers. They would probably have to start being picky about which men they slept with.

As it stands now, a mother is in a superior position not keeping the father around because she can draw funds based on the number of children she has and she has less adults to share the money with.

5/09/2010 12:53 AM  
Blogger Al B. said...

So how does lowering the opportunity cost of terminating unwanted pregnancies lead to an increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies being carried to term?

Perhaps the presupposition that unmarried women don't want children isn't valid? While it may be true that, "It wasn't a decision; it just happened," the fact is that more women are CHOOSING to have the child.

5/10/2010 10:30 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Al B.:

Did you read the link that I had on abortion?

5/10/2010 11:23 AM  
Blogger Al B. said...


Yes, I did red the link you provided. I also seem to recall that you devoted a chapter in 'Freedomnomics' to this. I believe your thesis could be summarized as: Liberal abortion laws lead to greater pressure to engage in extramarital sex, thereby leading to a greater number of unwanted pregnancies, thereby leading to a greater number of out-of-wedlock births, even if the percentage of out-of-wedlock pregnancies ending in abortion is greater, because at least some of the women involved find abortion to be an unacceptable alternative. And the increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies is substantially greater than the number of abortions, thereby leading to an increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births, which you presuppose are unwanted by the mothers involved.

I simply don’t find this chain of reasoning compelling. The issue is too complex, involving a host of other factors. For example, there has been a substantial rise in the percentage of women in our society who are capable of supporting themselves without a husband – my wife, for example, would do just fine without me to support her. Many of these women might choose to have the child even though it was unplanned, simply because they want to have the child.

Another factor that you have to consider is the increase in the availability and effectiveness of birth-control methods.

Yet another factor to consider is the decrease in the influence of the Catholic Church and their opposition to birth-control and abortion.

Still another factor to consider is that while the availability of abortion may increase the pressure to engage in extramarital sex (a causal relationship that you haven’t demonstrated), one might suppose that it would also increase the pressure to abort an unwanted pregnancy.

I’m sure there are many other factors that need to be considered as well. And that’s the point. Reducing the opportunity cost of an unwanted pregnancy by making abortion readily available doesn’t reduce the opportunity cost of unwanted children. If anything, it should increase it, since the next best alternative to an unwanted child is now so much more attractive. And yet, a greater percentage of children are being born out-of-wedlock, which begs the question, “Are they unwanted?” Perhaps there are other societal factors that you are overlooking that make raising a child out-of-wedlock relatively more attractive than it used to be.

5/10/2010 4:47 PM  

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