Nearly one in five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, according to new analysis of US Census Bureau data from Pew Research.
Childlessness among Educated Women Drops
The most educated women still are among the most likely never to have had a child. But in a notable exception to the overall rising trend, in 2008, 24% of women ages 40-44 with a master’s, doctoral or professional degree had not had children, a decline from 31% in 1994.
However, childlessness is still most common among highly educated women. In 2008, 24% of women ages 40-44 with a bachelor’s degree had not had a child. Rates were similar for women with a master’s degree (25%) and those with a doctorate or a professional degree, such as a medical or legal degree (23%).
Among women with some college but no degree, 18% were childless in 2008, compared with 17% for high school graduates and 15% of women without a high school diploma. Since the 1990s, rates of childlessness have risen most sharply for the least educated women. The most dramatic change has occurred among women with less than a high school diploma, whose likelihood of bearing no children rose 66% from 1994 to 2008. Rates rose less steeply over the same time period among high school graduates and women with some college but not a degree.
Among women ages 40-44 with a bachelor’s degree, there has been essentially no change in the likelihood of being childless. But rates have declined among women with advanced degrees; by 17% for those with master’s degrees and 32% for those with doctorates or professional degrees.
Women with advanced degrees were more likely in 1994 to be childless than were women with bachelor’s degrees; 34% of women with doctorates or professional degrees were childless, as were 30% of those with master’s degrees and 23% of those with bachelor’s degrees. The decline in childlessness for the most educated women from 1994 to 2008 erased that gap.
Among all women ages 40-44, 9% held an advanced degree (a master’s degree or higher) in 2008.
Racial Gap Narrows
By race and ethnic group, white women are most likely not to have borne a child. But during the past decade, childless rates have risen more rapidly for black, Hispanic and Asian women, so the racial gap has narrowed.
One in five (20%) white women ages 40-44 was childless in 2008, the highest rate among racial and ethnic groups. By comparison, 17% of black and Hispanic women were childless in 2008, and 16% of Asian women were childless. Between 1994 and 2008, the childlessness rates for black women and for Hispanic women grew by more than 30%. The rate for white women increased only 11%.
Fewer Married Women Have Kids
Among 40-44-year-old women currently married or married at some point in the past, 13% had no children of their own in 2008, a small increase from 11% in 1994. The childless rate among these women rose for whites, blacks and Hispanics, with the largest increases among black and Hispanic women.
A rising share of births is to women who never married, and this is reflected in a decline in childlessness among this group. Among women in this group, 56% were childless in 2008, compared with 71% in 1994. The childless rate fell for never-married white and black women. Data are incomplete for Hispanic and Asian women.
- 59% of adults disagree that people without children lead empty lives.
- 41% of adults say children are very important for a successful marriage.
- 46% of adults say it makes no difference that fewer American women are having children.
Modern Mothers Older, More Diverse
Women who gave birth in the US were older and less likely to be white or married in 2008 than in 1990, according to previous Pew Research Center analysis. The average age of women who give birth in the US is getting older. In 2008, 10% of mothers were younger than 20, compared to 13% in 1990. In contrast, 14% of mothers were older than 35 in 2008, compared to 9% in 1990. Slightly fewer women who gave birth in 2008 were between the ages of 20 and 34 (75%) than in 1990 (78%).
A significantly higher percentage of women who gave birth in the US in 2008 were Hispanic (24%) than in 1990 (14%). There was also a spike in the percentage of Asian women giving birth in 2008 (6%) compared to 1990 (3%). A large decline occurred in the percentage of mothers who were white (65% in 1990, 53% in 2008), and a slight decline occurred in the percentage of mothers who were black (16% in 1990, 15% in 2008).
While married women constituted 72% of childbirths in 1990, they only accounted for 59% of childbirths in 2008.
About the Data: This report is based mainly on data from the June 2010 fertility supplement of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The main comparisons use combined data from 2006 and 2008 and from 1992 and 1994. Two years of data are combined for each time point so as to have adequate sample size for detailed analysis. This report uses the standard measure of childlessness at the end of childbearing years, which is the share of women ages 40-44 who have not borne any children.