The New Demography of American Motherhood

  • May 06, 2010

The demography of motherhood in the United States has shifted strikingly in the past two decades. Compared with mothers of newborns in 1990, today's mothers of newborns are older and better educated. They are less likely to be white and less likely to be married.

In 1990, there were more births to teenagers than to women ages 35 and older. By 2008, that had reversed – 14% of births were to older women and 10% were to teens. Births to women ages 35 and older grew 64% between 1990 and 2008, increasing in all major race and ethnic groups.

Another notable change during this period was the rise in births to unmarried women. In 2008, a record 41% of births in the United States were to unmarried women, up from 28% in 1990. The share of births that are non-marital is highest for black women (72%), followed by Hispanics (53%), whites (29%) and Asians (17%), but the increase over the past two decades has been greatest for whites – the share rose 69%.

Just over half of births (53%) in 2008 were to white women, and a quarter (24%) were to Hispanic women. More than half of the mothers of newborns (54% in 2006) had at least some college education. One-in-four (24% in 2004) was foreign born.

The shift in characteristics of motherhood over the past two decades is linked to a complex mixture of demographic and behavioral changes. This analysis examines and explains these trends using data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Read the full report The New Demography of American Motherhood on the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Web site.