Births to Unmarried Mothers by Nativity and Education

Immigrants account for a large share of births in the United States. Almost one in four births (22.6 percent) in 2015 were to foreign-born mothers. As recently as 1990 it was just 7.9 percent. As a share of all births, the figure for 2015 may be the in highest American history. In 1910, the last peak in immigration, immigrants accounted for 21.9 percent of births. The tables below examine births by the education, race, and marital status of mothers based on 2015 data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The data reflect what is shown on certifications as reported by the states to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Combining data by marital status with education provides an important perspective on the challenges children born to immigrant mothers may face. There is good evidence that children born to unmarried parents are at higher risk of dropping out of high school, having run-ins with the law, and other negative social outcomes. This maybe especially true for children born to immigrants because of the challenges associated with adjusting to life in their parents' adopted country. Traditionally, immigrants have relied on strong families to navigate life in a new land. The educational attainment of parents is also a good predictor of a child's likely educational level and other socio- economic outcomes later in life.

Table 1 shows that illegitimacy is common for both natives (43 percent) and immigrants (33 percent). Among immigrants, Hispanics have the highest rate of non-marital births at 48 percent, which means that 48 percent of births to Hispanic immigrants are to a mother who was unmarried at the time of the child's birth. At 77.3 percent, black Americans have the highest rate of non-marital births among natives.


Table 1. 2015 Births in the United States by Race and Marital Status


  Percent Births to
Unmarried Mothers
Number of Births to
Unmarried Mothers
Total Births
Immigrants1 32.7% 294,157 898,497
      Hispanic 48.9% 221,704 453,798
      White 12.7% 17,672 139,589
      Black 34.2% 30,495 89,252
      Asian/Pacific Islander 10.9% 22,580 207,610
      Indian/Alaskan Native 41.2% 161 391
      More than one race 19.7% 1,545 7,857
 
Natives1 42.5% 1,293,902 3,046,058
      Hispanic 56.9% 267,025 469,158
      White 30.0% 590,886 1,971,769
      Black 77.3% 369,460 477,742
      Asian/Pacific Islander 27.2% 13,327 48,968
      Indian/Alaskan Native 68.4% 21,994 32,177
      More than one race 56.8% 39,900 70,215
 
Total (all births)2 40.3% 1,601,527 3,978,497

1 Includes those with known race/Hispanic origin and nativity.
2 Figures are for all births to U.S. residents.
Figures for Hispanics are reported separately and are excluded from other categories.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics public-use data.

Looking at education and illegitimacy together in Table 2 shows that the least educated have the highest rates of illegitimacy. This means that these children have the double disadvantage of being born to parents who have low levels of human capital and who are unmarried. The difference between groups is very large. In 2015, for example, the relatively high rates of illegitimacy among immigrant Hispanics and the large share with modest levels of education means that 25 percent of all children born to Hispanic immigrants were born to a mother who was both unmarried and had not completed high school, and another 15 percent were born to a mother who had only a high school education. Overall, 40 percent of births to Hispanic immigrants in 2015 were to less-educated, unmarried mothers. In contrast, among Asian immigrants 2 percent were born to an unmarried mother who had not completed high school and another 3 percent were born to an unmarried mother with only a high school education. These differences likely have significant implications for the life prospects of these children.


Table 2. Births to Immigrants and Natives by Race, Education, and Marital Status in 2015


  Percent Births to
Unmarried Mothers
Number of Births to
Unmarried Mothers
Total Births
Immigrants 32.8% 272,671 831,828
      < HS 51.9% 116,517 224,693
      HS Only 42.8% 84,025 196,189
      Some College 31.2% 48,929 156,680
      College + 9.1% 23,200 254,266
 
      Hispanic 48.4% 205,865 425,100
            < HS 56.8% 105,724 186,018
            HS Only 50.9% 64,067 125,886
            Some College 40.0% 27,428 68,491
            College + 19.3% 8,646 44,705
 
      White 12.6% 15,774 125,686
            < HS 22.3% 1,993 8,954
            HS Only 18.9% 4,029 21,331
            Some College 17.4% 5,047 29,028
            College + 7.1% 4,705 66,373
 
      Black 34.0% 27,939 82,131
            < HS 38.2% 4,515 11,808
            HS Only 44.1% 9,192 20,848
            Some College 39.4% 9,291 23,599
            College + 19.1% 4,941 25,876
 
      Asian/Pacific Islander 11.2% 21,422 190,986
            < HS 23.9% 4,108 17,190
            HS Only 23.5% 6,277 26,668
            Some College 19.4% 6,437 33,239
            College + 4.0% 4,600 113,889
 
Natives 42.5% 1,254,518 2,949,327
            < HS 75.8% 247,635 326,632
            HS Only 63.7% 481,541 755,830
            Some College 45.0% 432,992 961,549
            College + 10.2% 92,350 905,316
 
      Hispanic 56.6% 254,651 449,694
            < HS 77.0% 66,450 86,258
            HS Only 64.8% 96,299 148,719
            Some College 51.9% 79,737 153,771
            College + 20.0% 12,165 60,946
 
      Non-Hisp White 30.2% 571,669 1,895,237
            < HS 65.4% 97,153 148,513
            HS Only 53.3% 218,462 409,594
            Some College 34.4% 205,324 597,336
            College + 6.9% 50,730 739,794
 
      Non-Hisp Black 77.3% 354,941 458,893
            < HS 93.3% 68,295 73,161
            HS Only 87.4% 140,854 161,194
            Some College 74.6% 121,621 163,052
            College + 39.3% 24,171 61,486
 
      Asian/Pacific Islander 27.6% 12,310 44,654
            < HS 74.9% 1,450 1,937
            HS Only 60.2% 3,810 6,330
            Some College 45.8% 5,087 11,099
            College + 7.8% 1,963 25,288
 
Total 40.4% 1,530,197 3,787,993
      < HS 66.1% 365,102 552,765
      HS Only 59.4% 566,698 953,989
      Some College 43.1% 482,657 1,119,848
      College + 10.0% 115,740 1,161,391

Source: National Center for Health Statistics public-use data.
Figures by race and ethnicity are only for those with known race/Hispanic origin and education.

Data and Methods. The data for this analysis comes from National Center for Health Statistics public-use data available here. In total, there were 3,978,497 births in the United States in 2015 to U.S. residents based on birth certificate records. Births to the small number of foreign residents are not included in this analysis. Mothers in this analysis are considered immigrants if they themselves were born outside of the United States. The birth certificate records include some missing information. There were 8,681 cases included in the totals that do not indicate whether the mother was born in the United States. In terms of race and Hispanic origin, all states collect this information, but 2,911 individuals did not report a race and 32,450 individuals did not indicate whether they were Hispanic. Those that did not record race are excluded from the race figures. Those who did not report if they are Hispanic were assumed to be non-Hispanic. Two states, New Jersey and Connecticut, do not provide education data. Additionally, there are 51,631 cases where education data was also not reported in other states. In total, 5 percent of births did not have either race or education information. Figures by race and education are shown in Table 2 and do not included those who did not report a race or education level.