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US births outside of marriage at 40 percent—and it's part of a permanent cultural shift, experts say

Births outside of marriage in the United States are at 40 percent — up from 10 percent in 1970 — and that number is part of a permanent cultural and economic shift in many countries around the world. (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Births outside of marriage in the United States are at 40 percent — up from 10 percent in 1970 — and that number is part of a permanent cultural and economic shift in many countries around the world, Bloomberg reported, citing a new report from the United Nations.

The statistics from the U.N. Population Fund's annual report indicate the numbers are higher in the European Union, the outlet said.

The EU likely experiences more out-of-wedlock births since many member countries have welfare systems that support gender-balanced child care, Michael Herrmann, the Fund's senior adviser on economics and demography, told Bloomberg. Examples of such support include public health care, paid paternal leave, early education programs, and tax incentives.

A deeper look at the numbers

Births outside of marriage in the U.S. and EU happen mostly to unmarried couples living together as opposed to single mothers, the outlet said, citing the report.

Kelly Jones, director for the Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Bloomberg the data shows societal and religious norms concerning marriage, women in the workforce, and childbearing — particularly delays in childbearing — and have changed.

“Women are claiming their ground professionally,” Jones added to the outlet. “Delaying motherhood is a rational decision when you consider the impact it can have on your career, and that’s contributing to this trend.”

What's the average age an American woman has her first child?

The average age a U.S. woman has her first child is 27, Bloomberg said — up from 22 in 1970.

Along with that, while the U.S. marriage rate has fallen — and those who do walk down the aisle take that trip later in life — the number of adults living together has steadily risen, the outlet said.

'A long-term trend'

John Santelli, a professor in population, family health, and pediatrics at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, told Bloomberg that the traditional progression of the West “has been reversed. Cohabiting partners are having children before getting married. That’s a long-term trend across developing nations.”

In addition, an increasing number of couples are opting for no kids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the U.S. fertility rate hit a 30-year low in 2017, the outlet said.

Believe it or not

Herrmann told Bloomberg the increase in out-of-wedlock births actually has helped stem the tide of the fertility decline, which “would be much steeper if women weren’t having children outside marriage.”

“The trend will continue, there’s no doubt about it,” he added to the outlet. “We can’t go back to ’50s.”

One last thing…
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