14 May 2009

Europe Has More Unwed Births Than U.S.

Iceland is the leader with 6 in 10 births occurring among unmarried women. About half of all births in Sweden and Norway are to unwed moms, while in the U.S., it's about 40 percent.

France, Denmark and the United Kingdom also have higher percentages than the United States, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . . . Japan had the lowest percentage of unmarried births, with 2 percent in 2007.

From an AP report. See also the underlying report.

Unmarried women are having children at higher rates in almost every country in the world.

From 1995 to 2002, birth rates for unmarried teenagers declined: The rate for younger teens dropped 30% for ages 15–17 years, and 12% for older teens. Between 2002 and 2006, the rates declined slightly for young teenagers and increased 5% for older teenagers. . . .

[Birth] rates for Hispanic women (106 births per 1,000 unmarried women in 2006) and black women (72 per 1,000) were highest. Birth rates for unmarried non-Hispanic white (32 per 1,000) and Asian or Pacific Islander (API) women (26 per 1,000) were much lower. From 1995 to 2002, the nonmarital birth rate for black women declined 12%. Rates for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women were essentially unchanged during these years.

In the recent period 2002–2006, birth rates for unmarried non-Hispanic white women rose by 14% and for black women by 9%, while the rates climbed 20% for Hispanic women and 24% for API women.

By far the largest component of this increased fertility for unmarried women in the United States since 1995 has been among Hispanic women in their twenties or thirties.

Fertility rates for unmarried non-Hispanic white and Asian women are comparable to those of European countries like Italy and Spain were births to unmarried women are much less common. So far as I can tell, however, unwed parenting does not involve nearly the economic harms in most Western European countries that it does in the U.S., as a result of the strong welfare states of these countries.

In the U.S., unmarried parenting is starkly divided along lines of race and class, something that seems to be less clearly the case in Northern Europe.

Japan is notable not only for its low percentage of unmarried births, but for its very low fertility rate with recent fertility rate drops attributable almost entirely to women not choosing to marry, rather than to reduced fertility among married couples, and for its strong preference for condoms over hormonal birth control methods or IUDs as a method of contraception. Japan's school based and governmentally supported sex education programs have historically been weak. Japan also has a quite small, by international standards, public sector. Many social welfare needs met by the government in Europe or the United States, are met by extended family and employers in Japan, which also benefits from having a relatively egalitarian society economically, in which few people are truly poor.

What is happening in Japan? Women are increasingly entering the workforce, but finding that the choice between a career and a family is all or nothing to a much greater extent than in the U.S., and these women are increasingly choosing a career over a family.

The values of Japanese women have . . . changed notwithstanding the attempts of the government to persuade them to produce more babies. The more educated a woman is, the later she marries and has a child. The mean age of first marriage for Japanese women in 2007 was 28.3 years old up from 24.2 in 1970.

Moreover, marriage is now just one possible lifestyle choice for women. Career women today do not necessarily need a husband for their survival and comfort. The Japanese media and sociologists have coined the term “parasite single” to label working adults, especially single women, who have a decent salary and a great consumer lifestyle by staying rent-free with their parents. Women today are no longer under compulsion to marry at all cost.

More than 30 percent of Japanese women over 30 years old remain unmarried. Presumably, some cannot find a spouse who can match their expectations; others do not find the life of a housewife raising babies with an absentee husband (whose life and soul are pledged to the corporation) to be an attractive lifestyle choice.

[In a 2008 government survey] the percentage of Japanese men and women who rejected the statement “husband should work outside while the wife protects the home” were only 46.2 percent and 56.9 percent respectively --- considerably lower than those in the US, Germany and Sweden. . . . Japanese men spend an average of only thirty minutes each day to assist in childcare below five years old --- comparatively low by international standards. . . .

Husbands are expected to spend long hours at their workplaces and not take paternity leave even though it is granted by law. The childcare leave utilization rate by Japanese women was 72.3 percent for women in 2005 but only 0.5 percent for their husbands.

Age 1991 1996 2001 2005
25-29 40.2% 48.0% 54.0% 59.9%
30-34 13.9 19.7 26.6 32.6
35-39 7.5 10.0 13.8 18.6
40-44 5.8 6.7 8.6 12.2

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