What the birth rate says about changing family dynamics

May 10, 2013

(Phys.org) —An Iowa State University sociologist is not surprised by a recent U.S. Census Bureau report showing a spike in the number of unmarried women giving birth. According to the report, nearly 36 percent of babies born in 2011 were to single mothers. Susan Stewart, an associate professor, says there are several factors that influence this rate, including the recent recession.

"The recession has screwed up everything in terms of marriage and ," Stewart said. "Birth rates were down, marriage rates were down and divorce rates were down because of the recession."

To fully understand changes in the , it is important to look at changes in the marriage rate, Stewart said. Most couples generally wait to get married until they feel financially secure, which is why it's not unusual to see this rate decline during a recession. The decline is also a reason for the increase in children born to unmarried mothers. But it is too soon after the recession, Stewart said, to have enough data to really tell what is happening.

What concerns Stewart about the higher birth rate among unmarried women is the impact on the well-being of children and families. Single mothers, making less than $10,000 annually and have not earned a , had the highest percentage of non-marital births, according to the report. Not only do these families struggle with poverty, Stewart said there's the emotional cost of growing up in a single-parent household.

"On average, kids who grow up without two parents have lower test scores, they are less likely to go to college and complete college, they have higher levels of depression and are more likely to get into trouble," Stewart said.

However, she adds, these problems are not a direct reflection of . Instead, there are several environmental factors that can put single-parent families at a disadvantage.

"It's a combination of lack of parenting support, poverty, and children concentrated in low-income neighborhoods with poor schools," Stewart said. "It's a whole range of factors that come together to create these problems."

Iowa birth rates

The census report ranks Iowa as "significantly below" the national average with 31 percent of births in 2011 to unmarried women. Stewart said education and awareness as well as access to contraception all contribute to the lower rates.

Regardless of where states rank in the report, another important distinction to consider is that not all are necessarily single. Stewart said this is one of two common misconceptions about the birth rate.

"People often think two things about single motherhood. They think they're teenagers, which is not true. Women in their 20s produce the most out-of-wedlock babies. And they think that they're single, meaning there's no man in their life, when a large percentage are cohabiting with the child's biological father," Stewart said.

The report estimates that 40 percent of children, by age 12, live in a cohabiting household. Stewart said these relationships are not always as stable and may not result in marriage. Still, it is another factor to consider when looking at changes in the birth rate.

Explore further: Getting married later can have economic costs, benefits

Related Stories

More signs of the benefits of marriage?

December 13, 2012

There's new evidence about the benefits of marriage. Women who are married suffer less partner abuse, substance abuse or post-partum depression around the time of pregnancy than women who are cohabitating or do not have a ...

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.