After decades of increases for births outside of marriage, new data shows a drop in the number of babies born to unmarried women — but there is a baby frenzy happening among unmarried couples who live together.
In fact, births in what researchers call “cohabitating unions” jumped to 58 percent of all nonmarital births during the period 2006 to 2010, up from 41 percent in 2002, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although some studies show that living together may be less stable than traditional marriage, the new report shows that half of births to nonmarried, cohabitating women were planned.
“What this shows is that the nature of nonmarital childbearing is changing,” explains lead researcher Sally Curtin.
Mirroring the overall decline in U.S. births, preliminary data show that in 2013 there were 1,605,643 births to unmarried women, 7 percent lower than the all-time peak in 2008 of 1,726,566 births.
Birth rates were down more for unmarried black and Hispanic women than for unmarried non-Hispanic white women. According to the report, about four in 10 U.S. births were to unmarried women in each year from 2007 through 2013. Although today's stats show a drop in number of births from a 2008 peak, they are still much higher than the 1980 total of 665,747 nonmarital births and 18 times higher than the 1940 total of 89,500.
It’s no secret that older moms are experiencing a baby boom. Among women ages 35 to 39, the new report shows, the rate of nonmarital births was 7 percent higher in 2012, 31 births per 1,000, compared to 2007’s 29 births per 1,000. The nonmarital birth rate for women ages 40 to 44 increased to nine births per 1,000 in 2012, a 29 percent jump compared to 2007’s seven per 1,000 births.
Anne-Marie Rinaldi believes that having a baby while cohabitating may become the “new normal” for some couples.
Rinaldi, 34, has been with her high-school sweetheart for 16 years, and for the past decade the couple has lived together. Four months ago, Rinaldi gave birth to the daughter, Giuliana. Although the pregnancy was not planned, the couple couldn’t be happier.
“We don’t feel the need to rush to the altar,” says Rinaldi of Cleveland, Ohio. “This is the real world and marriage isn’t a necessity.”
Nonetheless, the couple does plan on getting married within the next few years. “We love each other, and we are OK financially, but we want to save more money,” Rinaldi says. “I guess in some people’s minds we did this backwards, but it works for us.”
Indeed, the days of the “shotgun marriage” may be over, but there may be a new trend toward “shotgun cohabitation,” explains Jennifer Manlove, co-director for Reproductive Health and Family Formation at the nonprofit research group Child Trends.
“When people think of nonmarital births, they tend to think of single women, but it’s really much more likely to be a two-parent cohabitating family,” she says. If a woman gets pregnant, she adds, some couples may be more likely to move in together.
But marriage isn’t dead. “There’s some work showing that both men and women want to get married at some point, and although they may choose to live together and have kids, they just don’t want to get married until they are more economically secure,” says Child Trend senior research scientist Elizabeth Wildsmith.
Public policies aimed at teen pregnancy education and prevention may be working. The report shows the largest percentage drop in nonmarital birth rates between 2007 and 2012 was for teenagers. The rate for those aged 15–17 dropped 30 percent to 14 per 1,000, while the rate for those aged 18–19 dropped 26 percent to 46 per 1,000.
“That’s really a substantial decline, and it speaks to the success of various programs,” says Wildsmith.
Researchers say it’s tough to predict what a family may look like 20 years from now, but it’s clear that cohabitation and nonmarital births aren’t going to go away. “I think what we need is more social support to families regardless of their structure,” she says.