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Average Unwed Mom? See Her Characteristics

The national birthrate to unwed mothers is 35.7 percent, according to 2011 census figures.

photo of Jody Brannon
May 1, 2013

About the 2011 U.S. Birthrate

Of he 4.1 million newborns, 2.8 million were born to white mothers (specifically 2.2 million to non-Hispanic whites), while Hispanic moms number nearly a million, at 944,700.

That signals the continuing dramatic shift in demographics. 

The number in 2008 was just more than 3 million children born to white women (including nearly 2.5 non-Hispanic whites), and 953,700 to Hispanics.

The differential in those three years showed a proportional shift of 2 percentage points.

According to census figures, about 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 each month, and will do so for the next 20 years.

Drawing from percentages in the most recent census data, the typical unmarried new mother fits into long-common groups: blacks, teens, those with no high school diploma, and those with an annual income of under $10,000.

Going by sheer numbers, rather than percentages, in figures for 2011 released Wednesday, there's a good chance unwed American women who gave birth within the past year fall into one or more of these groups:

  • earning between $50,000 and $75,000 (for 221,478 newborns, representing almost 30 percent of all nonmarital births)
  • between 20 and 24 years old (535,779 kids, or 61.5 percent)
  • has some college education, though not a bachelor's or higher (515,912 births)
  • white “alone” (820,975 births), a group that includes the census subcategory of “white, non-Hispanic”

Demographically, we are changing. The birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was 80 percent higher than it was in 1980, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The government attributes the jump to more cohabitation and immigrant births, including many born to Hispanics.

 

For instance, the report refers to 2008 data that showed a national average of 1.9 offspring by the end of the childbearing years (40 to 44); the rate for Hispanics was 2.2 children.

In the most recent data, collected in 2011, nationwide, 35.7 percent of births are to non-married women; that figure in 2005 was 30.6 percent.

Despite a trend in more single professionals choosing to have a child to rear on their own or in a same-sex relationship, women with at least a college degree had a birthrate of 8.8 percent.

The chart below toggles to specifics for many demographic characteristics, including states with the highest rate. The District of Columbia is omitted, but it has the highest percentage of unwed mothers, 50.8 percent. (States with the lowest rate of unwed mothers are Utah at 14.7 percent and New Hampshire at 19.6 percent).

U.S. Births to Unmarried Women

 

Mississippi offers a case study of a connection between poverty, education, and marriage. With a poverty rate of 21.2 percent, the nation’s lowest median income ($36,919), and only 17.9 percent of women ages 15 to 50 with a bachelor’s degree or more, the Magnolia State just trails Louisiana (at 48.7 percent), with 48.1 percent of its mothers not married.

The census report lists five cities with a birth rate to unwed mothers that is at least 10 percentage points higher than the U.S. average of 35.7 percent:

  • Flagstaff, Ariz. (74.6 percent)
  • Greenville, N.C. (69.4 percent)
  • Lima, Ohio (67.5 percent)
  • Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C. (67.4 percent)
  • Danville, Va. (67.3 percent)

In contrast, five cities with a rate at least 10 percentage points lower than the national norm:

  • Provo-Orem, Utah (8.2 percent)
  • Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Wash. (12.2 percent)
  • Bremerton-Silverdale, Wash. (12.5 percent)
  • Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Ariz. (12.7 percent)

 

The map below compares racial demographic data for the national and state averages for the five states with the highest birthrates to unwed mothers. Hover over a state to see the exact percentage.

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