Trends in Nonmarital Birth Rates and Approval of Nonmarital Childbearing in Western Countries

Matthew Wright, Bowling Green State University

Nonmarital childbearing has been increasing in Western countries, though there is substantial variation. Second Demographic Transition (SDT) Theory argues rising individualism would lead to a shift away from childbearing within marriage, as attitudes become more supportive of nontraditional family behaviors. However, comparative research linking attitudes toward and levels of nonmarital childbearing is scarce. This paper examines how levels and support for nonmarital childbearing in countries have changed over time, as well as variation in the correlation across time and country. In addition, we examine whether attitudes predict nonmarital birth ratios or vice versa. Descriptive findings show that the proportion of births outside of marriage increased among the countries we observed between 1989 and 2012, though large variations exists in the magnitude of change and absolute levels. Preliminary evidence also suggests that attitudes have become more approving overall, but changes in attitudes do not appear to track changes in behavior neatly.

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 Presented in Session P1. Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households