After decades of rapid growth, the rate of children being born outside of wedlock is now in decline in the United States.
In 2016, the share of babies born to unmarried mothers in the U.S. dropped below 40 percent, the first time it has been that low since 2007, noted Lyman Stone, research fellow at the Virginia-based Institute for Family Studies in a blog post last Thursday.
This substantive social change is happening concurrently with changes in marital status and in childbearing, and a decreasing fertility rate for the entire nation, she added. While a growing percentage of children today are born into two-parent households, the number of children overall is dropping.
"Since the recession [of 2007–2008], unmarried births have fallen, while births within wedlock have risen slightly. If the share of children born to unmarried moms were falling simply because of more married births — but unmarried births were still rising — then it wouldn't be quite correct to say that unmarried childbearing is on the outs. But with absolute numbers falling, it seems clear that we are genuinely enjoying a period where unmarried parenting is in decline," he went on to explain, noting the trend is holding across all ethnic and racial groups.
Approximately 5 percent of children were born outside of wedlock in 1960 in the U.S.; that figure grew to 41 percent in the late 2000s.
The latest data also reveals that since 2009, African-American women have seen the largest declines in unmarried child-bearing, and those numbers have not risen since the mid-1990s.
Yet when examined through the lens of socioeconomics and education level, the numbers of unmarried births actually increase within three groups measured: those with a less than a high school education, high school graduates, and those with a bachelor's degree.
"This phenomenon, where the aggregate trend of falling single motherhood masks each subgroup having an opposite trend, is a mathematical curiosity called Simpson's Paradox," Stone explained.
"And to be clear, this trend is even more true, if we control for the life-cycle-biased nature of educational estimates and restrict the sample for analysis to women over 25 or over 30, so women who have completed their educational course."
So while American society continues to move away from a married two-parent family structure and for each educational group the number of children born outside of marriage is growing, the only thing that prevents this effect is the fast growth in educational attainment.
"And until we see educational-status-controlled rates of nonmarital childbearing start to fall, it will still be the case that unmarried childbearing is becoming more normalized within each strata of American society, no matter what the national average numbers may say."
Thus, the drop in out of wedlock births may be temporary.
A parallel phenomenon occurring in society alongside lower fertility rates and fewer out of wedlock births nationwide, is quantifiably less sex going on among young people, despite a sexualized culture.
The Christian Post reported in August 2016 that contrary to conventional wisdom and their liberalized attitudes about sexuality, millennials are having less sex than previous generations, according to the data.
When controlled for time period and age, the only generation with a higher rate of sexual inactivity than 20 to 24 year olds was the one born in the 1920s, a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed.