Journal Article

The surprising decline in the non-marital fertility rate in the United States

The non-marital fertility rate (NMFR) in the United States has risen more or less steadily for the last 40 years. The separation of childbearing from marriage has often been viewed as an indicator of moral decay, as a key mechanism in the reproduction of inequality, and as the bulwark against population decline. The rise in the NMFR has been attributed to compositional effects, to limited economic opportunity, and to a lack of contraceptive adherence and efficacy. Since 2008, however, the NMFR appears to have fallen consistently. This drop is large and unprecedented in the last half century. We draw on national and state level vital statistics as well as individual level data from the American Community Survey to describe this turn-around. We find that changes to contraceptive use and effects of the Great Recession best explain the decline.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council. Daniel Schneider is Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California-Berkeley. Alison Gemmill is Doctoral Candidate, Department of Demography, University of California-Berkeley.