Children Born to Unmarried Couples on the Rise

Otherwise, U.S. Fertility Trends for Women and Men Relatively Stable Throughout Last Decade

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on April 11, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

April 12, 2012 -- Over the last decade, while many fertility trends have remained stable in the U.S., one definitely has not: the number of first births among unmarried couples who were living together.

Among women ages 15 to 44, that figure has risen from 12% of first births in 2002 to 22% between 2006 and 2010, according to a new government report on fertility.

As for the ages of first-time parents in America, that hasn't changed much: The average age for a woman to give birth to her first child is 23, while men tend to become fathers for the first time at 25.

This recently released nationwide report was based on fertility estimates of men and women in the U.S. ages 15 to 44 over a four-year period.

To determine fertility trends in the country during the population's prime reproductive years, data were collected from face-to-face interviews with nearly 10,500 men and almost 13,000 women. The research took place between July 2006 and June 2010, as part of the National Survey of Family Growth.

According to the report, one-half of women's first births took place in their 20s, and two-thirds of first births were fathered by men who were also in their 20s.

Some women delayed childbearing until they were slightly older. Women who were married and women who were college-educated were more likely to have a first birth at age 30 or older, compared with women who were not married or those with less education.

Both men and women with lower levels of education were more likely to have more children and at earlier ages than those who attended college.

Hispanic women and men were found to have more children than white and African-American women and men, partly because they tended to have their first babies at earlier ages.

The survey also found that white women had the fewest number of children and the highest average age at first birth compared with African-American and Hispanic women.

When Americans Start Families

There were also differences seen among ethnic groups in the timing of a firstborn child. Researchers estimated that by age 20, 32% of African-American women and 30% of Hispanic women had given birth, while only 5% of Asian women and 14% of white women had done so.

By age 40, 85% of women had given birth, and 76% of men had fathered a child. And when an American woman reaches her early 40s, she typically has two kids.

But some women remain childless. The survey estimated that 43% of women ages 15-44 had no children because they had decided not to, were unable to become pregnant, or were planning to have them later in life.

Since the report did not include men and women older than 44, it lacked information about how many older men father children after their mid-40s or the number of children born to women who had not yet completed their families.