Sunday, May 13, 2007

The number of children born to parents who are unmarried but cohabiting is at a record level, says a study released today by a nonprofit research group.

About one-third of all U.S. births in 2001 were out of wedlock, Child Trends researchers said in their new paper. Upon closer examination of National Center for Education Statistics data on more than 10,000 children and their parents, researchers found that more than half the children who were born outside marriage had both parents in the home.

This marks a significant change in childbearing patterns: In the early 1980s, only about 30 percent of unwed births were to cohabiting couples. In the early 1990s, this jumped to about 40 percent, and in 2001, it reached 52 percent.

“The good news,” said Jennifer Manlove, one of the authors of the Child Trends paper, is that more than half of children born to unwed parents are starting their lives with both of their biological parents. This also means that, in general, these children are better off economically than children born into single-mother households, she noted.

“The bad news,” she said, is that these children still face greater risks for poverty, poor health and problems in school than children in married-couple households.

“Also, cohabiting relationships have high rates of dissolution, and if that happens, the children can be hurt, both emotionally and financially.”

The Child Trends report also found that race, education and age were factors in cohabiting and childbearing:

• Sixty-five percent of unwed Hispanic mothers and 61 percent of unwed white mothers were cohabiting at the time of birth, compared with 30 percent of unwed black mothers.

• More than half of unwed mothers who had a high-school diploma, some college or a college degree were likely to be cohabiting when they gave birth. However, the opposite was true for unwed mothers who didn’t finish high school: Fifty-six percent of these mothers were not in live-in relationships when their children were born.

• More than half of unwed mothers age 20 and older were cohabiting when they gave birth, compared with 44 percent of teenage mothers.

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