motherEvery so often, a politician suggests that we should save money by shredding the Census Bureau. That would be such a bad idea! There is so much we need to know about the demographic face of the nation and how it is changing. Here, I will highlight American motherhood, and how it has been changing over the past half-century.


There are far fewer mothers than there used to be. The Census Bureau keeps track of birth rates, measured by the number of births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. Between 1960 and 2011,

  • For women with at least some college education, the number of births per 1,000 women dropped from 128 to 53.
  • For women with a high school diploma, from 110 to 44.
  • For women with less than a high school diploma, from 95 to 32.


To be a woman in her 40s who does not have kids is not nearly as unusual as it used to be. In 1976, about 10% of women ages 40 to 44 had no children. By 2008, that number had nearly doubled, to about 18%.


Over time, marriage and motherhood have increasingly gone their separate ways. In 1970, only 3.4 million mothers were living with their children (not counting grown children) and did not have a spouse. By 2012, that number was 10.3 million. Yes, I’m talking about the rise of “single mothers” here, though I have reservations about that term.


Married-parent households are on the decline. The drop has happened at every economic level. Between 1968 and 2010, the percentage of married-parent households:

  • Declined from 96% to 88% in households with the most income (top third)
  • Declined from 95% to 71% in households in the middle, with regard to income
  • Declined from 77% to 41% in households with the lowest incomes (bottom third)


The trend toward having children without being married is not specific to any one racial or ethnic group. For example, “single motherhood” is growing among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics.

Just for fun: In 2011, the most popular baby names for girls and boys respectively were Sophia and Jacob. No word on whether the popularity differs for children of mothers who are or are not single.

Note: These facts are from the Census Bureau’s 2013 “Facts for Features” report for Mother’s Day and from Derek Thompson’s article in the Atlantic, “How motherhood is changing dramatically – in 11 graphs.”

Mother and daughter image available from Shutterstock.