Study: Older, unmarried, educated moms on rise
Posted: Thursday, May 6, 2010 8:01 pm
By LEANNE ITALIE
Associated Press Writer
New mothers in the U.S. are increasingly older and better educated than they were two decades ago, according to a study on the state of American motherhood released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.
But that doesn’t mean women are waiting for just the right moment: The study also found that half of mothers surveyed said that parenthood “just happened.”
While most women giving birth are doing it within the context of marriage, the study found a record 41 percent of births were to unmarried women in 2008. That’s up from 28 percent in 1990, according to the study, “The New Demography of American Motherhood.” The trend crossed major racial and ethnic groups.
Nearly 14 percent of mothers of newborns were 35 or older two years ago — and only about 10 percent were in their teens. The age trend was reversed in 1990, when teens had a 13 percent share of births.
“I think everyone will welcome a decline in births to teens,” said D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer on the study. “It’s notable that the population of teens is larger than it used to be, so there were more who could have become teen mothers.”
Today, one in seven babies is born to a mother at least 35 years old. In 1990, one in 11 had a mother in that age group.
Most mothers of newborns (54 percent) had at least some college education in 2006, an increase from 41 percent in 1990. Among mothers 35 or older, 71 percent had at least some college education.
Improvements in medical care and fertility treatment, along with marriage and childbearing postponed to seek additional education, all factor into the shifts.
“The rise in women’s education levels has changed the profile of the typical mother of a newborn baby,” the report said. Cohn added that a lower share of mothers ended their education after high school, “so some of those mothers who would have been high school graduates in 1990 have some college education today.”
The report is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, along with a telephone survey in April 2009 of about 1,000 parents, likely parents and other adults of both genders. Overall, there were 4.3 million births in the U.S. in 2008, compared with 4.2 million in 1990. The number had risen each year from 2003 to 2007, then dipped in an apparent link to the economic downturn, the researchers said.
When American parents are asked why they decided to have a child, most cite “The joy of having children,” the researchers found. For nearly half of parents, though, an important explanation is: “It wasn’t a decision; it just happened.”
Women surveyed were more likely than men to cite “it just happened” as somewhat or very important to their decision to giving birth the first time.
Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families and a writer who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., said the rise of single motherhood and an increase in older women giving birth is significant.
Published in The Messenger 5.6.10