South Leads Trend of Motherhood Without Marriage

Helena Oliviero, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 13

Nearly four in 10 babies in Georgia are born out of wedlock in a decades-long shift away from the traditional family, according to an analysis of a new census report released today.

Other Southern states reported even higher rates, making the region the single-mother hub of the nation.

In Mississippi, 46 percent of women giving birth were single; in Louisiana, 40 percent, according to the analysis of marriage and fertility data by the U.S. Census Bureau—based on information collected between 2000 and 2003.

Only Washington, D.C., beats Mississippi, with more than half its mothers unmarried. The report is considered the first state-by-state look at links between marriage, fertility and other characteristics.

Nationwide, about 29 percent of babies were born to single mothers, according to the census numbers.

Factors such as racial composition, poverty and school dropout rates make Georgia and other Southern states more likely to have out-of-wedlock births, experts say.

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The statistics reveal a dramatic change. In 1980, just 22 percent of babies in Georgia were born to single mothers. Ten years later—in 1990—almost a third of babies were born to single mothers, according to the AJC analysis of state birth records.

Jane Dye, one of the census report’s lead authors, said the numbers are merely part of a larger trend of mothers’ choosing never to marry. In 2002, 23 percent of mothers never married—up from 18 percent in 1990.

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About 37 percent of single mothers are teens, according to the AJC analysis of the census data. And experts say some mothers simply aren’t ready to marry their baby’s father—at least not yet.

“They think marriage is a big step and they may not feel ready for settling down,” said Katina Brown, an ob/gyn medical social worker at Grady Memorial Hospital. “Some people are not ready for that commitment.”

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