Births Outside of Marriage Decline for Immigrant Women

After rising for decades, the share of U.S. babies born to unmarried women has stabilized in recent years, driven by a sharp decline in births outside of marriage among foreign-born women, and a leveling off among U.S.-born women. In the newest available data (2014), a third of all births to foreign-born mothers were to unmarried women – down from a peak of 37% in 2008. At the same time, the rate has held steady for U.S.-born women and now stands at 42%, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

The share of babies born to unmarried mothers has consistently been higher for U.S.-born women than for immigrant women. However, the roughly 10-point gap1 between the two groups in 2014 is the largest disparity since birth data by nativity and marital status became available 30 years earlier.

The share of all babies born to unmarried women in the U.S. stood at 40% in 2014, down marginally from 41% in 2008, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Thirty years earlier, just 21% of babies were born to unmarried women.

The decline in births outside of marriage among the foreign born is being driven, in part, by the changing regions of birth of new foreign-born mothers. The share of babies born to moms from Latin America has declined, while the share of babies born to moms from regions such as Asia has increased. New foreign-born mothers from Latin America were roughly four times as likely as moms from Asia to be unmarried in 2014.

The shifting origins of new immigrant mothers are due in part to the decline in the number of recent U.S. immigrants from Latin America, which has been driven largely by post-recession declines in Mexican immigrants, and to dramatic birth rate declines among Hispanic immigrants in the wake of the Great Recession.

Plummeting fertility rates among unmarried foreign-born women are further contributing to the declining share of babies born outside of marriage for this group. In 2014 the birth rate (the annual number of births per 1,000 women of childbearing age)2 for unmarried immigrants was 60.4. This is down from 90.0 in 2008 – a drop of 33% in just six years. Fertility among married foreign-born women also declined during this period marked by the onset of the Great Recession, but by a relatively modest 10%, from 115.1 to 104.0.

In 2014, U.S. births to foreign-born women from Latin America were more likely to occur outside of marriage than those to U.S.-born women (48% vs. 42%). However, U.S. births to foreign-born women from most other regions of the world were less likely to occur outside of marriage than those to U.S.-born women.

While the annual number of babies born in the U.S. has fluctuated in recent years – most markedly during the Great Recession when there was a significant drop in births nationwide – the trajectory over the past four decades or so has been upward. In 2014, there were 4.00 million births in the U.S., compared with 3.74 million in 1970.3
This growth has been driven entirely by the increasing numbers of babies born to immigrant women. In 2014, immigrant women accounted for about 901,000 U.S. births, which marked a threefold increase from 1970 when immigrant women accounted for about 274,000 births. Meanwhile, the annual number of births to U.S.-born women dropped by 11% during that same time period, from 3.46 million in 1970 to 3.10 million in 2014.

According to Census Bureau data for 2011-2014,5 the vast majority of foreign-born new mothers in the U.S. are long-term immigrants. Fully half (51%) of those who had a baby in the preceding 12 months have lived in the U.S. for at least 11 years. Just 9% are recent immigrants, having come to the U.S. within the preceding two years. New mothers originally from the Middle East and North Africa are the most likely to be recent immigrants – about one-in-five (21%) are. Conversely, just 6% of new mothers from Latin America are recent immigrants.

In terms of financial well-being, new foreign-born mothers are less well-off than their U.S.-born counterparts – a pattern reflective of broader nativity differences in the country. While median family income for new U.S-born moms is about $51,200 annually, this figure is $41,300 for new foreign-born moms.

In 2014, about 275,000 babies were born to unauthorized-immigrant parents in the U.S., accounting for about 7% of all U.S. births, and 32% of all U.S. births to foreign-born mothers. The share of new mothers who are teenagers is higher among the U.S. born (6%) than among the foreign born (2%), regardless of the region of the world in which they were born.

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