Today, an increasing number of births happen outside of marriage, marking a significant cultural and moral shift from 1970, when only 10% of childbirths occurred outside of wedlock. According to new data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), 40% of all births in the U.S. now happen outside of marriage. The numbers are even higher among members of the European Union. Michael Herrmann, senior adviser for the UNPF, said the increased numbers in the EU is likely because many member countries have welfare systems with more gender-balanced child-care offerings, like paid paternal leave, tax incentives and early education programs.
Most of the unwed births, it should be noted, occur between couples living together, not single mothers. “Women are claiming their ground professionally,” Kelly Jones, director for the Centre on the Economics of Reproductive Health at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Bloomberg. “Delaying motherhood is a rational decision when you consider the impact it can have on your career, and that’s contributing to this trend.” The average age women become pregnant has also increased. In 1970, the median age was 22, while today it’s 27 years old. Couples are waiting until later in life to get married, too.
And it doesn’t look like the birthing trend is going to change. In fact, it’s just going to increase, according to John Santelli, a professor in population, family health and paediatrics at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. The traditional progression of Western life, he said, “has been reversed,” adding, “Cohabiting partners are having children before getting married. That’s a long-term trend across developing nations.” It should also be noted that a growing number of American couples are choosing not to have children at all. In 2017, the U.S. fertility rate hit an all-time 30-year low, according to data compiled by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
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