The National Center for Health Statistics announced on Friday that the number of babies born to unmarried mothers hit an all-time high last year, with nearly 1.5 million births to single women. That's a hefty 35.7 percent!
Is this interesting news about how women are making the reproductive choices that are right for them, or is it cause for concern? It depends on where you're sitting. We at Broadsheet firmly believe it's the former. On the other hand, those who believe that only married straight people should be parents will likely interpret the unwed baby boom as a sign of slackening family values. And the fact that more women are raising children on their own just underscores the need for flexible career options, widely available child care and other services to support single moms.
Of course, the reality of being an unmarried mother is more varied than a single statistic can convey. And just because a mom isn't married doesn't necessarily mean she's a single parent -- there are plenty of Susan Sarandon types and same-sex partners out there who are in committed or co-parenting relationships without tying the knot, but the study still counts such women as single mothers.
And, NCHS spokesperson Stephanie Ventura was quick to point out, the common perception of unwed motherhood is pretty outdated. Although "people have the impression that teens and unwed mothers are synonymous," she said, the increase in the number of unmarried women having babies is mostly attributable to women in their mid- to late 20s. In fact, the NCHS reported that the birth rate for teenage girls hit an all-time low in 2004, with only 24 percent of babies being born to teens, down from 50 percent in 1970.