The changing demographics of motherhood

A nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center studied the changing demographics of motherhood in the United States, examining data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the U.S. Census Bureau from 1990 to 2008.

Mothers of newborns are now older, better educated, less likely to be white, and more likely to be unmarried. 

Population changes are a key factor influencing birth patterns in recent decades. There are fewer women in the prime childbearing years now than in 1990, as the youngest members of the giant Baby Boom generation have aged into their mid-40s. But changes in the race and ethnic makeup of young women — chiefly, the growth of the Hispanic population, which has higher birth rates than other groups — have helped keep birth numbers relatively level.

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Another influence on births is the nation’s growing number of immigrants, who tend to have higher birth rates than the native born (although those rates have declined in recent years). The share of births to foreign-born mothers, 15% of U.S. births in 1990, has grown at least 60% through 2004. Births to foreign-born women in 2004 accounted for the majority of Hispanic (61%) and Asian (83%) births.

According to Pew Research Center population projections, 82% of the nation’s population growth through 2050 will be accounted for by immigrants who arrived in the U.S. after 2005 and their descendants, assuming current trends continue. Of the 142 million people added to the population from 2005 to 2050, according to the projections, 50 million will be the children or grandchildren of new immigrants.

Not surprisingly, women are marrying later in life or not at all, and it is now more acceptable to have children outside of wedlock (although the survey found that most Americans think this is “bad for society”).  The majority of the citizenry still cite “two” as the ideal number of children — which has remained the same since the 1970s.

The survey also found that the U.S. has a higher total fertility rate than other developed countries. The reasons given are the lack of support for working mothers in places like Japan and Italy, along with the religiosity of Americans, which tends to correlate with larger families.

Here’s my favorite part. The survey also asked parents why they decided to have their first child:

[F]or the overwhelming majority, the answer is, “the joy of having children.” However, a half century after the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of birth control pills, nearly half of parents say “there wasn’t a reason; it just happened.”


  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in “Catholic Digest,” “Faith & Family,” “National Catholic Register,” “Our Sunday Visitor,” “Urbanite,” “Baltimore Eats,” and Zo

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