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4 in 10 children born out of wedlock in '05

ATLANTA -- Out-of-wedlock births in the United States have climbed to a record, accounting for nearly 4 in 10 babies born last year, government health officials said yesterday.

While out-of-wedlock births have long been associated with teen mothers, the teenage birth rate in fact dropped last year, to the lowest level on record.

Instead, births among unwed mothers rose most dramatically among women in their 20s.

The overall rise reflected the burgeoning number of people who are putting off marriage or are living together without getting married.

The increase in births to unwed mothers was seen in all racial groups, but it rose most sharply among Hispanics. It was up among all age groups, except for those aged 10 to 17.

"A lot of people think of teenagers and unmarried mothers synonymously, but they are not driving this," said Stephanie Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, a coauthor of the report.

The government also reported that the rate of births by caesarean delivery continued to climb in 2005, to a record high -- despite efforts by public health authorities to bring down that number.

About 4.1 million babies were born in the United States last year, up slightly from 2004. More than 1.5 million of those were to unmarried women, about 37 percent of the total. In 2004, about 36 percent of births were out of wedlock.

Out-of-wedlock births have been rising since the late 1990s.

Dr. Yolanda Wimberly of Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine said "it's more acceptable in society."

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