Single motherhood in U.S. increases sharply

More than six out of 10 women who give birth in their early 20s are unmarried, the Census Bureau said Wednesday in a report that shows sharp discrepancies in single mothers related to income, education and race.

Census demographers said that single motherhood, while on a steady uptick since the 1940s, has accelerated in recent years. The birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was up 80 percent in the almost three decades since 1980, the report said. But in the previous five years alone, between 2002 and 2007, it was up 20 percent.

Echoing the findings of many academic studies, the Census Bureau report said women with college degrees and higher household incomes are far less likely to be single mothers than are women who have lower household incomes and less education.

Overall, 36 percent of all births in the United States were to unmarried mothers in 2011, the year that the census analyzed from answers provided in the American Community Survey.

In the Washington region, 28 percent of births are to unmarried women. In the District, more than half of all births, 51 percent, were to unwed mothers. Maryland also had a higher rate than the national average, with 39 percent of all births out of wedlock. Virginia, in contrast, had a lower rate than the national average, with 31 percent of births to women who are not married.

The census also found that Asian mothers were the least likely to be unmarried, with just 11 percent of new Asian mothers being single. White single mothers also were below the national average, at 29 percent. Among Hispanics, 43 percent of all new mothers were unmarried, as were 68 percent of all African American women who had recently given birth.

The Census Bureau attributed the long-term increase in single mothers in large part to changing norms for sexual behavior and a decrease in marriage rates.

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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