40% of U.S. Children Born to Unwed Mothers

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A new look at U.S. births in 2007 revealed some interesting trends, from the good (we’re at the replacement rate), to the not-so good (teen pregnancies are up), to the complicated (40% of births were to women out of wedlock).

The 4,317,119 births [in 2007], reported by federal researchers Wednesday, topped a record first set in 1957 at the height of the baby boom.


The birth rate rose slightly for women of all ages, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent, continuing a trend that started years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

The article also notes that other reports have shown abortions are at their lowest level in decades. But whether this corresponds to the rise in births is hard to measure.

What interests me most is the 40% of children now being born to unmarried women. Some might see such a statistic as disturbing. But I think it’s much more complicated. Of that 40%, we don’t know how many of those children will be raised by two parents who either choose not to be married or cannot legally be considered married because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, there are mature women who choose to have children despite not being part of a relationship — again, there is no compelling reason to assume the child will not be raised well.

The article I referenced makes no judgments on the statistics, but people undoubtedly will use the numbers to draw conclusions about our society. In my mind, raw numbers tell us too little. The right questions are not about marital status but about whether our nation’s children are being raised well, in healthy environments. As much as some people might believe that the only good situation for children is in the home of a married, heterosexual couple, the reality is not so simple. Clearly, if trends continue, huge portions of our nation will grow up in “non-traditional” households. We’ll have to adjust how we judge quality parenting accordingly.