Public Has Split Verdict on Increased Level of Unmarried Motherhood

  • March 19, 2009
  • By D'Vera Cohn

Out-of-wedlock births rose to record levels in 2007, accounting for four-in-ten of all U.S. births that year, according to newly released preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The share of births to unmarried women has been rising for decades, but the increase has accelerated since 2002. The number of out-of-wedlock births has gone up 26% since then. The new National Center for Health Statistics report (PDF) indicates that all measures of births to unmarried women rose to historic highs in 2007—the number of births (1.7 million), birth rate and proportion of births.

Most Americans say that the growing prevalence of births to unwed mothers is a problem for society, but responses are more mixed—and differ sharply by generation—on the question of whether it is always wrong for an unmarried woman to have a baby, according to a 2007 Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey.

In short, there is a stronger consensus in public opinion about the social cost of out-of-wedlock births than there is about the morality of these births.

Read the full report Public Has Split Verdict on Increased Level of Unmarried Motherhood on the Pew Research Center's Web site.