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Recent spike in births to unmarried mothers

With as much new material as Maury Povich is able to find for his “Who’s My Baby’s Daddy” series – one of the most popular programs on daytime television – it might not be surprising to discover that births to unmarried women in the U.S. has been sharply rising in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 40 percent of all U.S. mothers are unwed. This number might seem high; however, a new U.S. report on births shows that the U.S. is still far behind northern European countries.

The award for leader in unwed mothers giving birth goes to Iceland, with six in 10 births among unmarried women. Following closely behind are Sweden and Norway. About half of their births are to unwed mothers.

According to the CDC, France, Denmark and the United Kingdom also have higher percentages than the United States.

Information like this shines a whole new light on seeing a woman go through sometimes five or six men on Maury before finding the baby’s real father. Well, maybe not.

This rise in unwed mothers giving birth has been happening since 1980, with the U.S. and 13 other industrialized nations experiencing a spike, a spokeswoman for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said.

Some rates have doubled and even tripled in some countries, though the rate has accelerated within the last five years.

Apparently, no one knows exactly why this rise is happening, but what’s for sure is that from a social standpoint, it’s becoming more acceptable.

One doesn’t have to be an expert to see that things have changed a great deal within even the last 10 years. Women are far more independent than they used to be and younger generations don’t feel as if they have to live under the same social standards that their parents did. Makes sense to me.

Differences do exist though, in how unmarried pregnancies are viewed by different countries.

In the U.S., single mothers are often on their own and are more likely to be poor and uneducated, experts have said.

According to Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington D.C., men and women in northern Europe often live together for long periods of time without tying the knot, and these relationships are often stable. Due to declining birth rates in European countries, Haub said, people are more concerned with making healthy babies than whether or not mothers are married.

Haub predicts that the total number of births internationally will decline, something that’s already taking place in European countries because of crumbling economies. However, he expects that current trends in the percentage of unmarried mothers will continue.

If these are the highest on the list of countries with the most unwed mothers, who’s ranking low?

The CDC reported that Japan had the lowest percentage of unmarried births, with just 2 percent in 2007, a number up 1 percent from the 1980 report.

Other countries saw spiking percentages, such as Italy rising from 4 to 21 percent, Ireland from 5 to 33 percent, Canada from 13 to 30 percent, and the United Kingdom from 12 percent to 44 percent.

According to the same report, the U.S. proportion of unmarried births rose from 18 percent to 40 percent in that time frame.

With the exception of Japan, it appears most industrialized nations are on the same birthing, ahem, playing field when it comes to unmarried mothers.

What happened to the good old Beaver Cleaver days when kids grew up with both a mom and a dad? Maybe the social standard on this subject is changing, but is it changing for the better? I’ve always heard that two is better than one, but maybe that’s changing too.

4 comments so far

I would definitely say that the social standard is changing. I mean, I know plenty of unwed couples who have children and are doing well. Just because their parents are not married, that doesn’t mean that those children will end up on welfare.

It is interesting though to ask, with all of the resources to prevent unwanted pregnancies is this rise because there’s an increase in relationships not ending in marriage or are people choosing to not be responsible?

Tricia,

Most excellent question! I think more research will have to be done to answer that one.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how I myself feel on the matter. Part of me wants to say that marriage is meant to last forever and that a strong relationship promotes a strong family unit and stronger people. But this is a changing world. As you pointed out, there are more and more people today choosing not to wed, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many relationships last without wedding rings, just look at Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

I think the real concern here is about the children involved. I don’t think many people can argue with the fact that it is incredibly hard, no matter where you live, to be a single mother. This is something we need to confront. But how?

The world is definintly changing, I agree. I’ve talked to a lot of women who aren’t married, and don’t plan to be ever, but still want to raise children. It is a whole new world out there and honestly I’m not sure it a changing for the better.

There really is nothing that we can do about this type of shift in thinking and action. It seems like the change happened in the media and entertainment world first and then spread to the general public. The only way anything will change is if that happens the opposite way now, but it never will.

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