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Executive Summary:

The State of the Family: Marital Status and Childbearing across Race, Ethnicity, and Education

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.

The benefits of intact marriage are clear, for individual adults, children, and families;1 and cumulatively, the consequences of family brokenness are dire for the nation. Unfortunately, a relatively small proportion of men and women of childbearing years are married,2 and a relatively large fraction of minor children live in unmarried families. Furthermore, a relatively large proportion of the adult population of childbearing years has no children. This dearth is a loss on many levels, including for the economy, given that the fraction of minor children in an area is strongly associated with adult male employment.3

This report is the first in the State of the Family series, which will illustrate outcomes that are important in the public discourse, such as welfare receipt, poverty, and healthcare, all viewed through the filters of different family background factors, such as family structure, race and ethnicity, and education attainment.

Some reports will illustrate these demographics for the United States as a nation, while others will also illustrate some of these demographics for all 50 individual states.

In this report, The State of the Family: Marital Status and Childbearing across Race, Ethnicity, and Education, marital status and childbearing demographics are illustrated separately and jointly, and then through the filters of race and ethnicity and educational attainment.

One quarter of adult men and nearly 30 percent of adult women aged 19 to 44 (of childbearing age) are married with children. Just over 40 percent of adult men and nearly 30 percent of adult women aged 19 to 44 are never-married with no children.

Around one third of men and around half of women aged 19 to 44 have children. Over half of minor children live in a married-parent family.

Having one or more children is slightly more common (around one third of men) among Asian, Hispanic, and White men aged 19 to 44 (of childbearing age) than among Native American and Black men, and men of other ethnicities (around one fourth of men). Among women aged 19 to 44, having one or more children is most common among Hispanic women.

Being married at first birth is more common than being unmarried among Asian and White women aged 19 to 44 (of childbearing age); by contrast, being unmarried at first birth is more common than being married among Black and Native American women. Until age 41 to 44, increasing percentages of women have a child in their household with increasing age. The fraction of women giving birth within wedlock overtakes the fraction of women giving birth out of wedlock in the category of women aged 31 to 35.

Among women aged 25 to 35, childlessness is more common among women with college degrees and postgraduate degrees than among women who did not complete high school and women with a high school diploma. At the birth of their first child, more female high school dropouts and female high school graduates are unmarried than married. By contrast, more female college graduates and females with postgraduate degrees are married than unmarried at their first birth.

In both the foregoing summary and the charts that follow, one is simply given descriptions of the U.S. population. No inference can be made about influences of the categories broken out (e.g., educational attainment) on the outcomes studied (e.g., marital status at childbirth).

Last, note, the American Community Survey has little retrospective information on marriage. This applies in particular to remarried mothers. One cannot determine whether presently remarried women were single, married, remarried, or cohabiting at the time of their first birth. This lack of information affects the accuracy of the charts on marital status at first birth.

Accuracy is similarly affected when children leave home while they are still minors. Moreover, if a mother was in her teens or early twenties at her child’s birth, the child may cease to be a minor while her mother is nonetheless in the age window (19-44 years of age) graphed in pie charts that follow. This case, also, of the child achieving adult status will often coincide with the child leaving home. Either of these occurrences diminishes the number of minor children reported in the home in the charts that enumerate them.

We hope that this breaking-out of marriage and childbearing patterns across racial/ethnic and educational categories is useful to those interested in family structure in the United States.


1 Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, “Non-Marriage Reduces U.S. Labor Participation: The Abandonment of Marriage Puts America at Risk of a Depression,” Marriage and Religion Research Institute, August 27, 2012, marri.us/labor-slump;
Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, “U.S. Social Policy Dependence on the Family: Derived from the Index of Belonging,” Marriage and Religion Research Institute, January 2013, marri.us/policy-2013.

2 Being in the marital state at the time of the survey is not equal to a person’s family always being intact. Complex life course changes may not be adequately reflected in the simple categories of being either “always single,” “married,” “divorced,” or “remarried.” For instance, a mother could have never been married, then given birth to a child, and then, after many years, have married (once).

3 Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, “U.S. Social Policy Dependence on the Family: Derived from the Index of Belonging,” Marriage and Religion Research Institute, January 2013, marri.us/policy-2013.