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Timing of First Births: 1930-34 to 1990-94

Written by:
Working Paper Number POP-WP025

This paper was originally presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA), Chicago, IL, April 1998


"This paper reports the results of research and analysis undertaken by Census Bureau staff. It has undergone a more limited review than official Census Bureau publications. This report is released to inform interested parties of research and to encourage discussion."


The purposes of this research is to examine the trend in the marital status of women at the time of their birth, to study premarital childbearing by age and to examine how rapidly women marry after having an out-of-wedlock birth. Three types of first births were identified in the study --premarital births, premaritally conceived births and post maritally conceived births. Premarital births are those births occurring to women before mother's first marriage; premaritally conceived births are those births occurring within seven months after mother's first marriage; and post maritally conceived births--those births occurring 8 or more months after mother's first marriage. The question, "how many live births, if any, (have/has . . . ever had?' was asked in the Current Population Survey to all women 15 to 65 years old in 1995 and 15 to 99 years old in 1980. Data for first births occurring between 1975-79 and 1990-94 only include first births to women residing in the United States at the time of their first child's birth.

Women 15 to 29 years Old

One in six first births to women 15 to 29 years old in 1930-34 were conceived before marriage compared to one in two births in 1990-94. During 1990-94, 41 percent of first births were born out-of-wedlock, 12 percent were conceived before women's first marriage and the remainder were conceived post maritally. Significant differences were found in the proportion of first births either premaritally born or conceived between white women (45 percent) and black women (86 percent). Hispanic women had an intermediate proportion of first births either premaritally born or conceived (54 percent).

During 1990-94, 10 percent of black women who had a premaritally conceived birth were married by the time of child's birth compared to 27 percent in the 1930s. For white women, these percentages were 29 and 61, respectively.

The major decline in this statistic occurred between the 1960s and 1980s during the time of great social changes among young people.

Women 15 to 19 years Old

During 1990-94, about 85 percent o fall first births to white women were either premarital or premaritally conceived compared with 25 percent during 1930-34. About 15 percent of all first births occurred postmaritally during 1990-94 with 75 percent during 1930-34.

About 98 percent of all first births to black women were premarital or premaritally conceived compared with 48 percent during 1930-34. Less than 2 percent of post maritally conceived first births occurred during 1990-94 compared with 52 percent during 1930-34.

For Hispanic women during 1990-94, about 81 percent of first births were premarital or conceived premaritally and 19 percent of births were conceived postmaritally.

Fertility and Marriage

Marital Trends after having an Out-of-wedlock Birth: Women are less likely to marry after having a premarital birth in 1985-89 than in 1965-69. During 1990-94 about 12 percent of women were married within a year of child's birth compared with 16 percent during 1965-69.

Marital Status and Marriage Order at First Birth: About 35 percent of all first births occurred before first marriage, up from 17 percent in 1965-69. A majority of first births (59 percent) still occurs during first marriage, although down from 81 percent in 1965-69. During 1990-94, 4 percent of all first births to white women occurred during and after second marriage compared to 1 percent for black and Asian and Pacific Islander women.


Page Last Revised - March 24, 2022
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