Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Few births in Washington outside of marriage; 5th lowest rate

by Matt Rosenberg May 7th, 2013

Washington state has one of the lowest rates of out-of-wedlock births in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. A new report issued in May 2013 says that in the most recent year for which detailed American Community Survey data on the subject are available – 2011 – 35.7 percent of births nationwide were to unmarried women. In Washington, the rate was just 27.7 percent or fifth lowest overall, but it ranged widely within the state by metro region. Tri-Cities and Bremerton were far below the national average, while greater Seattle, Olympia and Bellingham were somewhat below it. Spokane was slightly below the national average, Wenatchee above it, and Longview and Yakima far in excess of it. State-by-state, the only ones with lower overall rates than Washington were Utah, New Hampshire, Montana and Nebraska. They ranged from 14.7 percent to 25.3 percent. It matters, say the authors of the report, because children born outside of marriage are more likely to be raised in poverty, and have poor developmental and behavioral outcomes.

Along with all 50 states, the report also included the District of Columbia. D.C. had the highest rate of births outside of marriage in 2011, 50.8. It was followed at the top end by Louisiana (48.7 percent), Mississippi (48.1), New Mexico (47.6), and Rhode Island (44.3).

Generally the less the amount of formal education completed by the mother, the smaller the household income, and for the most part the younger the mother’s age, the greater the percent of births that were outside of marriage, according to the report titled “Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried with a Recent Birth: 2011.” It examined characteristics of women age 15 to 50 who in 2011 were unmarried and had given birth within the last year.

There were also sharp distinctions by race, according to the report. Only 11.3 percent of births to Asian women in the U.S. in 2011 were outside of marriage, versus 29.2 percent for whites, 43 percent for Hispanics, 44.6 percent for mixed race women, 64 percent for American Indian or Alaska Native, and 67.8 percent for African American women.

A Census Bureau Excel spreadsheet lists 2011 non-marital birth rates by U.S. metropolitan regions. In Washington state, Longview’s rate was a whopping 58.4 percent and Yakima’s almost as high at 55.4. They were followed by Wenatchee-East Wenatchee, where in 2011 38.2 percent of 2011 births were non-marital, then by Spokane (32.5), Olympia (27.5), Bellingham (26.9), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (23.8), Bremerton-Silverdale (12.5) and Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, or Tri-Cities (12.2).

The following map from the report provides an at-a-glance comparison of state rates.

From U.S. Census Bureau, Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011, May, 2013

The overall U.S. non-marital birth rate grew 80 percent between 1980 and 2007, according to the Census Bureau report, possibly reflecting “changing norms regarding sexual behavior and family formation” including “a decrease in marriage rates overall” and a shift to cohabitation among some sectors of the populace, the report states.


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