In 1960, nonmarital births were quite rare. Today, about two-fifths of all births are to unmarried women. This resulted from a complicated combination of moral and behavioral changes, and a new report from Senator Mike Lee’s Social Capital Project disentangles them.
Here is the key chart in the report, showing how the numbers would be different if various factors—marital and nonmarital pregnancy, “shotgun” marriage, and marriage itself—had held steady at their early-1960s levels. (The share of births to unwed mothers has leveled off in recent years, so the end of the chart in 2005–2009 is essentially the end of the trend.)
Basically, without any one of these factors, the share of all births that are to unwed mothers would be about 10 to 15 percentage points lower than it actually is. Let’s take them in turn.
The first key fact is that the Sexual Revolution had opposite effects on the childbearing rates of married and unmarried women. Married couples’ fertility rate plummeted by about a third in the 1960s and early 1970s, almost certainly thanks to the introduction of the Pill at the beginning of that period. Married people have always been sexually active, and the Pill allowed them to continue doing what they were doing with a drastically reduced risk of pregnancy if that was what they wanted. Many did—and when the married have fewer kids, the percentage of kids born to the unmarried rises, even if nothing else changes.
SOURCE: Robert VerBruggen
Institute for Family Studies