Half of unmarried women who gave birth in the United States in the past year lived below the poverty level, compared with 12 percent of married mothers, U.S. Census Bureau data show.
Data also show that the majority of mothers in both populations are in the work force, according to a report titled, “Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the United States From the American Community Survey: 2000 to 2003.”
The bureau’s analysis, based on a sample of more than 3 million households, is the first to examine issues such as marriage, fertility and socioeconomic characteristics on a state-by-state basis.
This study “helps us understand the kinds of changes taking place in the American family and what those changes mean,” said Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon.
He added: “These are the types of data that policy-makers can use to more specifically target programs to strengthen the family.”
The report by Tallese Johnson and Jane Lawler Dye of the Census Bureau’s Population Division says: “Data on the characteristics of mothers with infants can be used to evaluate the needs and requirements of health and maternal programs,” as well as child care services.
The analysis found that 29.1 percent of women who had a birth in the past year were not married and that 50 percent of such unmarried mothers were living below the poverty level. That means they had an income of less than $19,900 for a family of four. In contrast, only 12 percent of married mothers with new babies had incomes below the poverty line.
The national average for women who had a birth in the past year and were below the poverty level was 23 percent. “Most states in the South, and some states in the West” had a greater proportion of unmarried new mothers in poverty than other regions of the country, the report said.
Nationally, 56 percent of all women with a new baby are working. The breakdown includes 60 percent of single women and 54 percent of those married.
“Most states in the Midwest, and some states in the Northeast and South, had a higher percentage of married mothers with a birth in the last year who were in the labor force, compared with the national average,” the census study said.
In some states, the share of working married new mothers was nearly 70 percent.
Across all demographic groups of new mothers analyzed, women living in the Midwest had the highest labor force participation. Across all groups, the rates of new mothers working outside the home are lowest in the West.
The study also showed that men and women living in the Northeast tend to marry later and less than people elsewhere in the nation and have a higher proportion of unmarried-couple households.
“Marriage at older ages can be linked to an increase in the likelihood of nonmarital births,” the report said.