by Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center
May 6, 2010
This report examines the changing demographic characteristics of U.S. mothers by comparing women who gave birth in 2008 with those who gave birth in 1990. It is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau. It also presents results of a nationwide Pew Research Center survey that asked a range of questions about parenthood.
Among the key findings of this report:
- Age: Mothers of newborns are older now than their counterparts were two decades ago. In 1990, teens had a higher share of all births (13%) than did women ages 35 and older (9%). In 2008, the reverse was true — 10% of births were to teens, compared with 14% to women ages 35 and older. Each race and ethnic group had a higher share of mothers of newborns in 2008 who are ages 35 and older, and a lower share who are teens, than in 1990.
- Marital Status: A record four-in-ten births (41%) were to unmarried women in 2008, including most births to women in their early 20s. In 1990, 28% of births were to unmarried women. The unmarried-mother share of births has increased most sharply for whites and Hispanics, although the highest share is for black women.
- Race and Ethnicity: White women made up 53% of mothers of newborns in 2008, down from 65% in 1990. The share of births to Hispanic women has grown dramatically, to one-in-four.
- Education: Most mothers of newborns (54%) had at least some college education in 2006, an increase from 41% in 1990. Among mothers of newborns who were ages 35 and older, 71% had at least some college education.
- Explaining the Trends: All the trends cited above reflect a complex mix of demographic and behavioral factors. For example, the higher share of college-educated mothers stems both from their rising birth rates and from women’s increasing educational attainment. The rise in births to unmarried women reflects both their rising birth rates and the shrinking share of adults who are married.
- Attitudes about Parenthood: When asked why they decided to have their first (or only) child, the overwhelming majority of parents (87%) answer, “The joy of having children.” But nearly half (47%) also say, “There wasn’t a reason; it just happened.”
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