The Latest Figures on American Motherhood

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First, the bad news: 1 in 4 women who had a baby between June 2007 and June 2008 were living in poverty, according to the most recent Census figures. Then, the not-so-bad news: of the 1.5 million unmarried mothers who gave birth that year, a quarter were actually cohabiting with a partner, so perhaps they weren’t exactly “single” moms. And last, the could-go-either-way news: the percentage of working women who gave birth grew between 2007 and 2008, from 57% to 61%.

These findings are contained in the latest report from the Census Bureau, Fertility of American Women: 2008, which also found that between June 2007 and June 2008, about 4 million American women aged 15 to 44 gave birth. Fertility data are collected every two years, but this is the first report to publish cohabitation data. (More on 5 Pregnancy Taboos Explained (or Debunked))

Most of the trends identified in the new report are familiar. Blacks and Hispanics have more kids than whites and Asians. Women who have more education delay childbirth and are usually married when they have kids. About 25% of all children who took their first breath in the 12 months before June 2008 were the offspring of foreign-born women, most of whom were not citizens. A quarter of those non-citizens lived in California.

But keeping an eye on Census figures is sometimes like watching an incredibly slow car crash. Consider that more than a half-million women under 30 with less than a high school education had babies in 2007-2008. Almost 57% of them were living without a partner. Then consider that two of the biggest preconditions for poverty are low levels of education and single parenthood. (More on “Mompetition”: Why You Just Can’t Make Mom Friends).

At the other end of the spectrum, nearly three quarters of a million women older than 30 with a college degree had children. And 93% of them were living with their husbands.

The more education women had, the more likely they were to return to work within the first year of their child’s life. And divorced women were marginally, by 10 percentage points, more likely than married women to have returned to full-time work.

While cohabiting without marrying is becoming increasingly common, the trend hasn’t yet shown long-term legs among parents. Although about a fifth of moms under 30 with a high school education and 14% with some college lived with someone, most of the mothers over 30, no matter their level of education, were married. (More on Are You Fertile? Don’t Rely on a Drug-Store Fertility Test to Tell You)

Significantly, however, this data was collected in June 2008, before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the recession, which, some experts have suggested have pushed people to live together at higher rates than before.

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