Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Volume 41, Number 3, September 2009

Decomposing Trends in Nonmarital Fertility Among Latinas

By Felicia Yang DeLeone, Daniel T. Lichter and Robert L. Strawderman

CONTEXT: For Latinos, high rates of nonmarital fertility reinforce economic inequality and slow the pace of social and economic incorporation into American society.

METHODS: Changes in the nonmarital fertility ratio—nonmarital births as a percentage of all births (NMFR)— among women aged 15–44 over the period 1994–2005 were partitioned into three components: changes in marital and in nonmarital fertility, and in the proportion of women who were married. Annual birth data were drawn from the national Natality Detail File, and population estimates were drawn from the Current Population Surveys. Analyses were conducted for blacks, whites and Latinas, as well as for selected subgroups of Latinas; differences in NMFRs between racial and ethnic groups were also calculated.

RESULTS: NMFRs were largely unchanged between 1994 and 2002, and then began to rise; they averaged 43% for Latinas, 69% for blacks and 23% for whites over the study period. In 2005, 48% of births to Latinas were nonmarital. Most of the rise in Latinas’ NMFR was linked to a decline in marriage. Among foreign-born Latinas, a six-percentagepoint increase in the NMFR was due mostly to a rise in nonmarital fertility and a decline in marital fertility, which offset the beneficial effects of a rising marriage rate. The difference between Latinas’ and whites’ NMFRs was largely attributed to Latinas’ higher nonmarital fertility, whereas the difference between blacks’ and whites’ NMFRs was driven mostly by lower marriage rates among blacks.

CONCLUSIONS: Efforts to reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing among Latinas are needed, and programs should promote healthy marriages, especially among foreign-born Latinas.

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2009, 41(3):166–172




T. Lichter is Ferris Family Professor, Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Department of Sociology and Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center; and Robert L. Strawderman is professor, Department of Statistical Science and Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology—both at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.