Stateline Story

States Show No Improvement In Curbing Out-of-Wedlock Births

  • September 13, 1999
  • By Clare Nolan

Four states and the District of Columbia have cut their rates of illegitimate births to such an extent they will receive bonuses of $20 million from the federal government.

But the declines in those states and seven others were completely offset by increases in births to single mothers in 39 other states.

For the nation as a whole, the percentage of out-of-wedlock births remained unchanged. More than 32 percent of births in the United States are to unmarried women, many of them teenagers. Children of single mothers are far more likely to be poor than children born to married couples.

California, Michigan, Alabama, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. each qualified for the bonus. Each had to show their decrease did not come at the expense of a rising abortion rate.

Congress created the bonus awards as part of the 1996 federal welfare law. Promoting two-parent families and reducing illegitimate births are two of the law's stated goals.

To determine the winners, the Department of Health and Human Services compared the proportion of illegitimate births over the two years from 1994-95 to the ratios in 1996-97. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia showed improvement.

Officials said they cannot determine what factors contributed to the successes of some states. The declines did not necessarily correspond with welfare reform. California, for example, had not begun its reforms on a large scale until 1998. Wisconsin, an early implementer of welfare reform, showed a slight increase in births to unmarried mothers.

California showed the largest decline. Its illegitimate birth rate fell 5.7 percent; Michigan's, 3.7 percent; Alabama's, 2.0 percent; Massachusetts', 1.5 percent. Illinois nearly matched Massachusetts' decrease, with a decline of 1.45 percent, but the law stipulates awards will go to the top five states.

The worst performers were: North Dakota, with an increase in out-of-wedlock births of 10 percent; Montana, with an 8.9 percent increase; Idaho, 8.8 percent; and, South Dakota, 8.8 percent.

The state-by-state breakdown is available at http://www.acf.gov/news/oowstatehtm