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More Women Having Babies Without Marrying, Survey Finds

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Greater societal acceptance of out-of-wedlock births and an increasing tendency by women to approach marriage and childbirth as two separate decisions are spurring more women to have children without marrying, new Census Bureau data suggest.

As part of a study on the fertility patterns of American women, the bureau last month reported sharp increases in the proportions of white, older, more educated, and more affluent women becoming mothers without marrying. The survey was conducted in June 1992.

While noting that higher proportions of never-married women with children were poor, uneducated, or members of minority groups, the report shows lower rates of increase among those groups than for those in nontraditional categories.

For example, among 18- to 44-year-old, never-married women with children, the proportions who were white and who had graduated from high school or college doubled between 1982 and 1992, and the proportion who held managerial or professional jobs nearly tripled.

Over all, the report shows almost a 60 percent rise in the share of never-married women in that age group who had borne a child, from 15 percent in 1982 to 24 percent in 1992.

The data show "society in general has changed its attitude toward unmarried mothers,'' said Amara Bachu, the Census Bureau statistician who wrote the report.

"Parents of never-married women are accepting their unmarried, pregnant daughters of all age groups'' and pitching in to help so they can pursue their studies and avert unhappy marriages, Ms. Bachu said.

At the same time, she added, federal, state, and local policies are channeling more aid to single mothers of young children, and schools are offering more educational programs and services for pregnant teenagers and their children.

Meanwhile, more older, well-educated women who are financially secure are making the choice "to have a baby without the hassle of marriage,'' Ms. Bachu noted.

'Decoupling' Decisions

Karen Pittman, the director of the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research at the Academy for Educational Development, a research and policy group, said the trend reflects a "decoupling of decisions about marriage and decisions about child-rearing.''

"The idea that you don't have to be married to have children is becoming more of a norm,'' she said.

Data comparing the numbers of children women expect to have with the numbers they actually bear at various ages show the trend has been most pronounced among teenage African-American women, she noted. But there appears to be a greater openness to bear children without marriage in the 20's for Hispanic women and in the 30's for white women, Ms. Pittman said.

"Society has opened up Pandora's box and allowed those decisions to be made separately, and different groups are making those decisions at different ages,'' she said.

The data are likely to heighten debate, though, over the effects of single parenthood on children.

Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a conservative public-policy group, said a "glamorization'' of single parents in popular culture and some "unfortunate messages'' conveyed by social programs have downplayed the vital social, psychological, and emotional role of fathers.

Studies show children in single-parent homes are more apt to be poor and at risk of school and social problems.

But Ms. Bachu noted that no study has examined the outcomes of children of never-married versus divorced parents.

Some also suggest poverty is a stronger predictor of negative outcomes than parents' marital status.

But when more affluent single women opt for children, the result may still be "two people with unmet needs,'' Ms. Hamrick argued. "The child cannot take the place of a committed relationship, and the child needs both a mother and a father.''

Copies of the report, "Fertility of American Women: June 1992,'' are available for $5.50 each from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

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