Women are having fewer children today than in years past and more and more are having their first child unmarried, according to a new Census Bureau report on fertility in the United States.
The report, released Tuesday, identifies trends and patterns in 2012 census data as it relates to births nationally and at the state level. And it looks at how age, poverty, education and relationship status interact with birth rates.
The average number of kids born per woman is down from more than three in 1976 to about two in 2012, the report finds. And while the majority of women are still married when they have their first child, the share of women who are not is growing.
Here’s a look at some of the report’s findings:
Young women give birth more in Southern states
Six of the 10 states where the highest rates of women age 15 to 22 reported giving birth in the past year were in the South.
Higher rates of young women giving birth tended to be linked both to high rates of poverty and younger-than-average populations, the census found. Florida, for example, had a low rate of births to young women likely thanks to its higher-than-average median age, the census reports. The opposite is likely true of Texas.
In Oklahoma, 6.3 percent of women aged 15 to 22 had a birth in the previous year, a higher rate than in any other state. The rate was also at or above 6 percent in Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota and South Carolina. Seven of the 10 states with the lowest birth rates for young women were in the Northeast, with Massachusetts claiming the absolute lowest. There, 1.4 percent of women 15 to 22 had given birth in the prior year. (In D.C., 3.6 percent of young women reported giving birth in the prior year.)
Mississippi and Montana were home to the most births to poor mothers
Mississippi and Montana had the highest rates of births to mothers in poverty, according to the report. The two were the only states in which more than 2 in 5 births in the past year to women age 15 to 50 were to mothers in poverty. That share was smaller than one in five in just four states: Massachusetts, Delaware, Utah and Connecticut. Connecticut had the lowest rate of births to mothers in poverty, at 17.8 percent. Mississippi’s was 42 percent.
Of course, the census points out, states with high poverty also tended to have generally higher rates of births to poor mothers.
Birth rates peak earlier for less-educated women
The report finds that birth rates for women with less than a high school education peak earlier — when they are between the ages of 20 and 24 — than those for women of other educational levels. Among female high school graduates, birth rates are generally the same throughout their 20s. Women with a bachelor’s degree or more see birth rates peak in their early 30s. (Of course, rates wouldn’t be able to peak much earlier given that people typically attend college in their early-20s, though the birth rate is higher for highly educated women in their early 30s than in their late 20s.)
Fewer mothers are married at the time of their first births
A majority of women are still married at the time they give their first birth to a child, but the share is shrinking, the census reports. In the early 1990s, 70 percent of women were married at the time of first birth. That percentage dropped to 55 percent after 2005.
It’s even more extreme for young mothers
The general trend toward a smaller share of women being married at the time of their first birth is much stronger among young mothers. Women younger than 23 are now less likely to be married than either living alone or with a partner at first birth.
Unmarried first-time mothers were much more likely to be unemployed and less likely to have a high school degree
A census analysis found that the odds of a first-time mother being unemployed or lacking a high school degree rose when they weren’t married at the time, though the odds were slightly reduced if they were living with a partner.