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The List: No NJ Baby Bust for Unmarried Women Ages 35 and Older

But census data shows that births to unmarried teens plummeted by 80 percent

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Fewer New Jersey women are having children each year than a decade ago, although the number of unmarried women having children — particularly at older ages — has increased.

The number of females ages 15 to 50 in the state who gave birth within the last year dropped 19 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. A similar, though less severe, drop was seen nationally, with 7 percent fewer births across the country.

In New Jersey, the number of women giving birth declined in all three age groups reported by the census — ages 15-19, 20-34 and 35-50 — and for married women, who accounted for 71 percent of those giving birth in the 2016 survey, compared with 76 percent a decade earlier.

The only categories that saw an increase in births were for unmarried women over age 20, whose number rose by 15 percent. Births to unmarried teens plummeted by 80 percent to just 1,034. Meanwhile, births to unmarried women aged 35 and older jumped by 60 percent to 4,773, which was a bigger increase than the 49 percent rise for these women nationwide.

Although it used a different set of census data, the Pew Research Center recently released an analysis that explains and confirms this trend.

“There has been a substantial increase in motherhood over the past two decades among women who have never married,” Pew reported. “The majority of women ages 40 to 44 who have never married have had a baby.”

Annual fertility rates down

Still, annual fertility rates are down. Nationally in 2016, 5.2 percent of women ages 15 to 50 had given birth in the prior year, compared with 5.7 percent a decade earlier. In New Jersey, the drop was even steeper, 4.6 percent in 2016, compared with 5.5 percent in 2006. One reason is that women are becoming mothers later in life: The median age at which women become mothers in the United States is 26, compared with 23 in 1994, according to the Pew report.

Part of that change is the drop in teen births. According to Pew, 22 percent of women in their 40s who were mothers had borne a child before turning 20 in the mid-1990s. By 2014, that percentage had dropped to 13.

At the same time, more women are delaying childbirth, with the biggest growth among women near the end of their childbearing years. Factors responsible for this trend include the rise in the percent of women earning bachelor’s and advanced degrees and working, as well as the decision to marry later. The Great Recession also played a role in delayed childbirth.

“Given these social and cultural shifts, it seems likely that the postponement of childbearing will continue,” according to the Pew report.

That has led, according to Pew, to a statistic that sounds paradoxical: The share of U.S. women in their 40s who had ever given birth was higher in 2016 than it had been a decade earlier — 86 percent in 2016, compared with 80 percent in 2006. The 86 percent of women in their 40s who were mothers in 2016 was similar to what it was in the early 1990s,

“The recent rise in motherhood and fertility might seem to run counter to the notion that the U.S. is experiencing a post-recession ‘Baby Bust,’” the Pew report states. “However, each trend is based on a different type of measurement … Comparing the lifetime fertility of women who just recently completed their childbearing years with those 20 years earlier suggests that postponing births does not necessarily equate with lower lifetime fertility.”

And one trend that may help keep lifetime fertility steady is that of unmarried women having children. Pew found that 55 percent of women in their 40s in 2014 had had at least one child. That’s a big jump from 1994, when fewer than a third of unmarried women in their 40s were mothers.

These are the New Jersey counties with the largest percentage of unmarried births in 2016 and data for births for unmarried women 35-50:

1. Salem County

55.4 percent of about 750 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married, and a quarter of unmarried women who had a child were age 35 and older.

2. Atlantic County

53.3 percent of an estimated 3,200 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married — an increase of almost 50 percent over the prior decade. Six percent of the unmarried women who had a child age were 35 and older.

3. Warren County

52.2 percent of the estimated 950 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married. No estimate for older unmarried women was given.

4. Cumberland County

50.3 percent of the estimated 870 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married, and a third of unmarried women who had a child were age 35 and older.

5. Camden County

39.5 percent of the estimated 7,900 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married — an increase of some 57 percent over the previous decade. Seven percent of unmarried women who had a child were age 35 and older.

6. Gloucester County

36.4 percent of the estimated 2,200 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married. One in 10 unmarried women who had a child was age 35 and older.

7. Union County

34.6 percent of the estimated 6,800 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married – an increase of about 30 percent over the prior decade. A third of unmarried women who had a child were age 35 and older.

8. Cape May County

34.2 percent of about 800 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married. No estimate for older unmarried women was given.

9. Essex County

34 percent of the close to 9,600 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married, with about 31 percent of the unmarried women who had a child were age 35 and older.

10. Mercer County

About a third of the estimated 4,300 women who gave birth in the previous year were not married. Three in 10 unmarried women who had a child were age 35 and older.

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