Abstract

We use a method of standardization and decomposition developed by Das Gupta to update Smith and Cutright’s analysis of demographic factors responsible for increases in the nonmarital fertility ratio (illegitimacy ratio) among blacks and whites in the United States. We create standardized rates for each year between 1960 and 1992, and consistent, exhaustive decompositions of the nonmarital fertility ratio for any interval during this period in terms of four components: (1) the age distribution of women of reproductive age, (2) the proportion of women unmarried at each age, (3) the age-specific birth rates of married women, and (4) the age-specific birth rates of unmarried women. Nonmarital fertility ratios are much higher among blacks than among whites, but both increased monotonically from 1960 to 1992. During the last 10 years, each increased by nearly 10 percentage points. Increases in the proportion of women not married, at all ages, account for the preponderance of the increase in black nonmarital fertility ratios. Increasing rates of unmarried childbearing, however, have played a role during the most recent decade (1983–1992). For whites, from 1960 until 1975, declines in marital fertility were most important in producing increases in the proportion of children born out of wedlock. Since then, these proportions have increased primarily because of increases in unmarried women s birth rates, and secondarily because of declines in the proportion of women who are married. These trends are consistent with arguments that emphasize declining economic incentives to marry and reduced access to, and acceptability of, abortion.

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