The Typical Modern Mother: There Isn't One

Jun 11, 2010

Today's mothers of newborns are more likely than their counterparts two decades earlier to be ages 35 and older, to have some college education, to be unmarried or to be nonwhite -- but not all at once.

A recent Pew Research Center report on changes in the demographic characteristics of mothers of newborns found that from 1990 to 2008 the proportion of new mothers ages 35 or older rose to 14% from 9%; that the nonwhite share rose to 47% from 35%; and that the unmarried share rose to 41% from 28%. Thanks in part to rising educational attainment, more than half of mothers of newborns (54% in 2006) have at least some college education, compared with 41% in 1990.

It may be tempting to blend these four rising traits into a description of a "typical mother," but there is no such thing. Among total U.S. births in a year, less than 1% are to unmarried, nonwhite women who are ages 35 and older and have at least some college education, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2006 statistics.

The proportion rises to only 1% if you count mothers of newborns who are 35+, unmarried and with any education beyond high school and about 1.5% for mothers who are 35+, unmarried and nonwhite. Removing the 35+ age restriction so as to include all women who unmarried, nonwhite and have any education beyond high school still yields only 5% of births in 2006. It is only when just two of these major characteristics are combined -- for example race or ethnicity and marital status, as shown in the accompanying pie chart -- that double-digit shares are achieved.

Read the full report, The Typical Modern Mother: There Isn't One, on the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Web site.

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