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An increasing number of firstborns have unmarried parents

Photo of Karen Lavin

As many Illinois residents know, nontraditional family structures are common these days. With varying family configurations, child custody or visitation issues are more and more relevant. However, did you know that an increasing number of firstborns in the United States have unmarried parents? These numbers have changed significantly over the past decade.

Specifically, the percentage of firstborns to women cohabitating with a male increased from 12 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2006 to 2010. In addition, the percentage of cohabiting new fathers rose from 18 to 25 percent. These statistics come from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is based on data collected from 2006 to 2010.

Sociologists credit the recession for this statistical jump. The recession was at its height from 2007 to 2009, which was in the middle of the federal data collection period. A scholar explains that "having kids is much more than about money. It's about love."

So, what other factors account for this recent increase? A sociologist indicates that women with more education are starting to have children outside of marriage. They want to start families; however, they may not find themselves in a stable enough economic position to want to make the transition into marriage.

Furthermore, there are also some racial or ethnic differences in the statistics. Among white women, 34 percent of first children were born outside of marriage, 20 percent of which were cohabiters. Approximately 80 percent of firstborn children of black women were outside of marriage. Also, 18 percent of these women were cohabiting. Among Hispanics, 53 percent of first children were outside of a union; 30 percent of these women were living with another person.

In total, the increase in first births to cohabiting women echoes the rise in first births to unmarried women. Of first births from 2006 to 2010, 46 percent were to unmarried mothers, compared with 38 percent in 2002.

There are a variety of factors that affect the number of children born to unmarried parents. It would be interesting to see the consequence of these numbers on child custody disputes and other family law matters. Has the increase of nontraditional families increased these types of cases, too?

Ultimately, a professor of sociology who has studied cohabiting couples with children says "I'm not sure it's just about cohabitation. It just could be that it's OK now to have a kid outside of marriage."

Source: USA Today, "More children born to unmarried parents," Sharon Jayson, April 12, 2012

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