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More unmarried women, but fewer teens, giving birth

WASHINGTON -- Nearly 1.5 million babies, a record, were born to unmarried females in the United States last year, the government reported yesterday. And it's not just teenagers represented in the statistics.

''People have the impression that teens and unmarried mothers are synonymous," said Stephanie Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics.

Last year teens accounted for just 24 percent of unwed births, down from 50 percent in 1970, she said.

The increases in births by unmarried women have been among women in their 20s, she said, particularly those 25 to 29.

Many of the women in that age group are living with partners but count as unmarried mothers if they have not formally married, Ventura noted. The 20s are the prime childbearing years, regardless of whether the mother is married, she said.

Among teens, more than 80 percent of mothers were unmarried.

There were 1,470,152 babies born to single women in 2004 -- 35.7 percent of all births in the country, the health statistics center said. That's up from 1,415,995 a year earlier.

The number of births to older women continued to increase, reflecting choices women are making in terms of careers and having families, the center said.

The birth rate for women aged 35 to 39 increased 4 percent from 2003 to 2004. It was up 3 percent for women ages 40 to 44 and 9 percent for those 45 to 49.

Other findings of the report included:

  • There were 4,115,590 births total in 2004, up from 4,089,950 in 2003.

  • Births to whites declined by nearly 18,000, while births to Hispanics were up 32,000; there was an increase of more than 8,000 births to Asians and a rise of just 72 births among black women.

  • The total birth rate was 14.0 per 1,000 women, down from 14.1 in 2003.

  • The birth rate for females ages 15 to 19 was 41.2 per 1,000, down from 41.6 in 2003.

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