Why Unmarried Women Are the Most Powerful Force Behind U.S. Fertility Trends

Unmarried women are now influencing the U.S. fertility rate more than ever before since we started keeping track of it.

According to a July 10 Wall Street Journal report, the national fertility rate is actually on the rise for the first time in seven years. However, it’s mostly married women who are having babies these days — and these women are occupying a shrinking share of the population of potential mothers.

The fertility data for 2014, released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thus shows a widening discrepancy between married and unmarried women in America. While married women continue to have children year after year, unmarried women are having fewer — or none at all.

This matters because unmarried women, who now make up the majority of women of childbearing age, are what the U.S. will rely on to drive its sagging fertility rate. While most women of this age were married two decades ago, 58% of this age group today aren’t. The average woman will have her first child after she reaches 25 years of age, although women are usually at their peak fertility between 20 and 24 years of age.

“It’s really what the unmarried segment is doing that is going to drive the overall rate,” said Sally Curtin, a demographer and health statistician for the CDC.

In good news, however, the CDC found that the teen birthrate fell to a historic low in 2014. According to the Washington Times, the rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. has dropped an incredible 61% since 1991. There are now approximately 24.2 births per 1,000 teens.

“This is spectacular news — proof again that teens can, and often do, make good decisions,” said Sarah S. Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

So no, teenagers do not make up a significant portion of unmarried women who give birth. However, with the U.S. fertility rate stubbornly remaining below the optimal rate for population stability, it will increasingly be unmarried women who will determine what happens to the number of babies born across the country.

Leave a Reply