What’s New in the Motherhood?


Nearly 4 out of 10 babies are born to unmarried women. Have today’s teenaged girls run completely amok? Not so. The sudden spike in unwed motherhood is driven by the increasing number of women in their 20’s and 30’s who are choosing to become mothers without a husband on board. The trend is seen by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics and is based on a review of birth certificates across the United States.

There may be no single explanation, but several factors play a role. The social stigma for unmarried births has lessened considerably over the last 50 years. Women are increasingly able to sustain themselves financially and control their fertility. It is possible to choose motherhood outside of the marital relationship, and women are doing that in greater numbers than ever. For instance, between 2002 and 2006, unmarried women between ages 20 and 40 went from having 13% to 34% of all births. In 2007, the number was 40%.

Other countries have experienced the same trend in even greater numbers. In the United Kingdon, 44% of births are to unmarried women. In Iceland, Sweden, and France, the number is 50% or higher. In all countries, many, but not all, of the mothers live with, but are not married to, their children’s fathers.

Are women willing to forego marriage, but not miss out on motherhood? How will this change in the mothering experience affect the status of women with children? What does it mean for family and parental policy in the US? Let us know what you think by posting a comment below.

Click here for related article in the New York Times.


  • Nicole

    I am one of the unmarried mothers included in the 2002 to 2006 statistics. My unmarried status is a choice, not a challenge. My partner and I are not married because we choose not to be, one main reason is due to marriage inequality in this country, but another reason is that we don’t see the necessity. I know several mothers who are unmarried by choice. We are all well educated women in our mid 20’s to mid-30’s. Most of us are living with the father or co-parent of our child/ren.

    I see this growing trend as a sign of our generations liberation from the idea that a woman must be wife AND mother to be fulfilled. We can be any combination of the two, with other roles thrown in. I really think this is the beginning of the rejection of marriage as a social institution in the West.

  • GoodReason

    “I really think this is the beginning of the rejection of marriage as a social institution in the West.” If true, that is to be lamented. The official and public pledging of equal partnership between the two halves of humanity is a cause to be celebrated, not roadkill to be tossed to one side with nary a glance back.

  • spring

    Well congratulations on fifteen successful years of propaganda from the National Fatherhood Initiative! They have got the message across that there’s an “epidemic” of single motherhood and completely normalized it. Why bother to get married.

    Congratulations to them too, as well as the entire family values anti-welfare child support enforcement crowd for elevating the status of spermatazoa to the point where a man’s having sex buys him all the rights and “responsibilities” of fatherhood, contrary to centuries of jurisprudence that accorded the status of legal paternity only to husbands. Why bother to get married.

    And chins up to the backlash, anti-feminist “let’s clamp down on those wayward women even harder crowd”. As the child custody laws become more and more punitive, imposing all of the detriments but none of the benefits of marriage on women and the families they create on their own, taking babies away from the mothers who bore them, and chaining women to the soil upon which they gave birth, all in order to enforce “fathers’ rights”, women will start wising up. More and more of them will be doing their pregnancies via anonymous sperm donation and other circumventions that will protect their lives from onerous state and stranger male intrusion and control.

    Count on it.

  • Idyllic Youth

    I definitely think State enforced child support is a contributing factor. Not to downplay the ability of single moms to support themselves, but I think many single moms count on child support that they did not have to pay an attorney to get. I am proud of being a married mom. I am proud of raising my child with two parents. I am not saying that its wrong to raise a child alone or even with an unmarried partner. I do wish that if women chose to have a child alone, they make that choice to support the child alone too. To force a man to pay based on some calculation of what he’d have paid to support a child if the couple had married is ridiculous. I agree with spring. For a man to have sex is to agree to all the rights and responsibilities of being a father without any choice. Woman can control their birth control and abortion options, men can only chose to have or not to have sex. After that bring on welfare and state ordered non-custodial payments. The system is biased towards women these days. If you chose to do it alone, fine, but actually do it alone.

  • Nicole

    Men do have a choice whether or not they conceive children…it’s called wearing a condom or not having intercourse at all. As soon as you agree to have sex with another person, you take on the responsibility of all the possible consequences, including supporting any resulting children.

    I really don’t understand why people are so tied to the institution of marriage (outside of religious beliefs- although that brings up all sorts of other questions). My partner and I are fully committed to each other, our son, and our family. We work together to provide for the needs of our son and each other. We don’t need a piece of paper from the state to validate our relationship or hold us accountable to each other and to our child. We have our own ethics and values to adhere to. And from what I have seen of marriages, that piece of paper and that ceremony do not afford any guarantees of happiness or fidelity. So I’ll take my chances without marriage. As I am free to do. Thank you.

  • Idyllic Youth

    You are free to have children without being married. But you aren’t alone. Perhaps you are single for tax purposes, but it sounds like you aren’t really single. It sounds like you have a responsible partner who wants to be a parent. Congrats, that’s awesome. I’m all for choice in that matter. I just think making a choice to raise a child without the promise (or vow) of another person should be honored by the state. Sex is by no means a vow, marriage and dedication to being a parent is. It seems you don’t need a state sponsored piece of paper like a marriage certificate to make your partnership any more real than it is, why would needed state ordered child support be any different? Especially when that state ordered child support is based on a supposed financial situation that never took place to begin with: marriage. The very institution you reject.

  • googlegirl

    It makes a huge difference when you are self supporting (unmarried) or not. The ideal scenario for raising children was to be married at one time which is based on religious beliefs. I realize the issues that are before us concerning same sex marriage and the frustration thereof, however those issues are between man and his God. The people that want to get married cannot and the ones who have that option , choose not to (to confusing ) The key issue is whether or not you are supporting yourself and your children, that to me becomes a more a social issue. Economically speaking, single or not young or older; it places a drain on us all when individuals decide to continue to procreate with no means of becoming self supportive.

  • Rj

    Marriage is a contract so that the gubment can be all up in yo biznaz. There are no guarantees other than what both individuals hold–subject to change at any moment. Your relationship is whatever you define it as.

    @Idyllic Youth–I think you totally misunderstood what spring was saying.

    “count on child support?” Why shouldn’t they? He put it in, now he can pull it out!

    “If you choose to do it alone…do it alone.” That feels like a very prejudicial and privileged statement coming on….

  • Isjois

    Wow – where is the compassion…or at least the attempt to understand "single mothers"?!?

    Before we judge one another or presume to "understand" things, we all need to take some time to educate ourselves.

    It takes TWO people to conceive a child – therefore, two people should support it. If the man doesn't want the responsibility, he can use "birth control".

    Instead of judging the women, listen to them and ask questions. You may find that they believe the institiution of marriage has let them down. Perhaps their parents divorced or they are the victims of a "bad marriage". We will not sell marriage on anyone, unless we make it an institution to be valued again.

    And – if you are not going to respect women, how can you ask them to "respect themselves" according to your standards?!? Let's not cast stones…