(May 2002) Unwed motherhood is a topic of perpetual interest to social pundits on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. The attention may be warranted. Children growing up in single-parent households typically do not have access to the economic or human resources available to those growing up in two-parent families. The Census Bureau reports that 40 percent of children in female-headed families were poor in 2000.1

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Results from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey show that close to 30 percent of women ages 15 to 50 who gave birth in 1999-2000 were unmarried. For a subset (15- to 19-year-olds), the percentage unmarried was much higher: 80 percent. In 1999-2000, the District of Columbia had the highest rate of unwed motherhood at 60 percent, followed by Mississippi at 44 percent. The lowest rates were in Nevada (19 percent), North Dakota (18 percent), and Utah (18 percent). In three states (Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island) and in the District of Columbia, almost all of the women ages 15 to 19 who gave birth in the year prior to the survey were unmarried.

Births outside of marriage were less common among women in the 20-to-34 age group (27 percent) and among women ages 35 and older (15 percent). In four states — Hawaii, Nebraska, Nevada, and New Hampshire — less than 5 percent of women ages 35 to 50 who gave birth in 1999-2000 were unmarried.

1. U.S. Census Bureau, “Age, Sex, Household Relationship, Race and Hispanic Origin-Poverty Status of People by Selected Characteristics in 2000,” accessed online at http://ferret.bls.census.gov/macro/032001/pov/new01_006.htm on October 31, 2001.