WASHINGTON — Childbearing by unmarried women has reached its highest level on record, accounting for more than one baby in five, according to a government study released Monday.
But at the same time, birth rates for teen-agers and young women have declined--in some cases to the lowest levels on record--the National Center for Health Statistics reported.
There were 770,355 births to unmarried mothers in 1984, the latest full year for which statistics are available. This was up 4% from 1983, according to the center, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Birth Rate Steady
Those 770,355 births made up about 21% of the 3,669,141 live births in the nation in 1984. The overall birth rate was 15.5 per 1,000 people, the same as in 1983, the study said.
"Childbearing by unmarried women rose between 1983 and 1984 to the highest levels observed since 1940, when national statistics were first collected on this subject," the study reported.
Increasing out-of-wedlock birth rates for women in their 30s and 40s continued as it has over the last decade. This appears to be a result of "making up for delayed childbearing," the study said, noting a sharp rise in first births among women aged 35 and over.
Women Delaying Families
This has followed a pattern, seen since about 1970, of women delaying the start of their families as they pursued educations and careers. The increase in unwed births reflects both a growth in the birth rate among unmarried women and a larger number of such women in the prime childbearing ages, the study said.
While reporting record high levels of births to unmarried women, the health statistics center also found record low births among all young women--combining the married and singles.
"Although the reductions in the rates were relatively small, the rates for teen-agers 15-19 years (of age) dropped to the lowest levels observed in the United States since 1940, and for women 20-24 years, to the lowest levels ever observed," the center's report said.