Volume 42, Issue 3
Pages 176 - 185

Unintended Births: Patterns by Race and Ethnicity And Relationship Type


Childbearing intentions vary by race and ethnicity and by relationship type. However, few studies have examined whether they differ by race and ethnicity within relationship type.


Data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study were used to examine the childbearing intentions of 9,100 mothers of a cohort of children born in 2001. Multivariate and multinomial regression analyses were conducted to examine whether relationship type (married, cohabiting or neither) helps explain racial and ethnic differences in childbearing intentions and whether associations between race and ethnicity and childbearing intentions vary by relationship type.


Blacks were more likely than whites to have had an unintended birth (odds ratio, 2.5); the relationship held among married (2.6), but not unmarried, mothers. For most relationship types, black mothers had higher relative risks than whites of having had an unwanted birth, rather than an intended or a mistimed one. Asian married mothers were more likely than their white counterparts to have had an unwanted, rather than intended, birth (1.9). The odds of an unintended birth were lower among foreign-born Hispanic cohabiting women than among white cohabiting women (0.6), a finding driven by the lower risk of unwanted than of other births among foreign-born Hispanics (0.3–0.5). Few differences were apparent between native-born Hispanics and white mothers.


Racial and ethnic differences in childbearing intentions are frequently contingent on relationship context. Differences between whites and blacks are largely attributable to married women. Assessment of childbearing intendedness among Hispanics should take nativity into account.

Authors' Affiliations

Lina Guzman is program area director and senior research scientist, Elizabeth Wildsmith is research scientist and Jennifer Manlove is program area director and senior research scientist—all at Child Trends, Washington, DC. Kerry Franzetta is a policy and program analyst, University of California Offi ce of the President, Oakland.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Support Our Work

Your support enables the Guttmacher Institute to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and worldwide through our interrelated program of research, public education and policy analysis.