US Childlessness Is Up, but Racial Gaps Narrowing

Hope Yen, San Francisco Chronicle, June 24, 2010

Nearly 1 in 5 American women beyond childbearing years never gave birth as fewer couples, particularly higher-educated whites, view having children as necessary to a good marriage.

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The figures show that among all women ages 40-44, about 18 percent, or 1.9 million, were childless in 2008. That’s up from 10 percent, or nearly 580,000 in 1976.

Broken down by race, roughly 20 percent of white women are childless, compared with 17 percent of blacks and of Hispanics and 16 percent of Asians. Still that gap has been narrowing: Since 1994, childlessness for blacks and Hispanics has grown by 30 percent, about three times the rate for whites.

{snip} After reaching a high of 3.7 children per woman during the baby boom, the U.S. fertility rate dropped to a historic low of 1.7 during the mid-1970s and stands at about 2.

The findings also come amid a historic demographic shift in which blacks, Hispanics, Asians and multiracial people are growing rapidly in the U.S. population and wielding more influence in politics and society. Minority babies now make up nearly half of all U.S. births.

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While higher-educated women overall are more likely to be childless, that may be slowly changing. In 2008, about 24 percent of women ages 40-44 with a master’s, doctoral or professional degree did not have children, a decline from 31 percent in 1994.

In the meantime, childlessness has risen sharply for women with less than a high school diploma–from 9 percent in 1994 to 15 percent in 2008.

Other findings:

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_More births are from women who never married. Among never-married women ages 40-44, about 56 percent were childless in 2008 compared with 71 percent in 1994.

_U.S. childless rates were somewhat similar, if not higher, compared with other industrialized nations. About 17 percent of U.S. women were childless at age 40, compared to 22 percent in England, and 17 percent in Italy and Ireland. The rates were between 12 percent and 14 percent for Spain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Sweden.

{snip} Figures for “white” refer to those whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity.

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