WASHINGTON — A record number of babies — nearly 1.5 million — were born to unmarried women in the U.S. last year. And those moms were more likely to be 20-somethings than teenagers, according to new federal data released Friday.
"This is not a teenage issue," says Stephanie Ventura,. a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics. "Women in their 20s are accounting for a huge percentage of these births."
The data show that 35.7% of all births were to unmarried women. Births last year to both married and unwed mothers totalled more than 4 million.
By age group, almost 55% of the births for mothers ages 20-24 were to unmarried women. For those between 25-29, almost 28% of the births were to single women.
Teenagers, who accounted for 50% of unwed births in 1970, accounted for 24% of unwed births in 2004.
Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, says she's thrilled about the decline in teenage mothers, but she worries about the trend for those ages 20 and above.
"It's not going in the right direction," she says. "The right direction would be non-marital childbearing in all groups to be going down."
Instead, the numbers of unwed births has increased slightly each year since 1990. But Ventura says "a steep increase in a short period" — the last two years — "caught our attention."
Between 2002 and 2004, births among unmarried women ages 25-29 jumped more than 14%. It rose about 7% among the 20-24 age group over the same period.
"There's been a sea change in terms of expectations around marriage and babies," says Dorian Solot, co-founder of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, an advocacy organization for the unmarried.
Solot says unmarried mothers present very different scenarios for their children, depending upon whether they are the single, professional parent-by-choice, a cohabiting couple, or a poor woman living alone.