Census Bureau Releases New Report on American Women's Fertility

By Rachel Walden — August 20, 2008

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a new report, Fertility of American Women: 2006 [PDF], using data from the annual American Community Survey and biannual Current Population Survey. Between these two data-gathering efforts, women ages 15-44 were asked how many children they had ever had and the date of birth of their last child, and women 15-50 years of age were asked if they had given birth to any children in the previous 12 months.

The result is a document full of tidbits, trivia and tables on women’s childbearing in the United States. Among the findings:

  • 20% of women aged 40 to 44 years had not had children, compared with 10% thirty years ago
  • Women in that age group have an average of 1.9 children each
  • Women with graduate or professional degrees averaged more children than those without such degrees
  • Of women who had given birth in the previous year:

  • 36% were separated, divorced, widowed, or never married; the rest of the women were married or unmarried and living with a partner
  • 20% were foreign-born
  • 57% were in the labor force, although nearly 7% were unemployed
  • 25.2% were living below the poverty line, and another 21% were at less than 200% of poverty, although only 6.4% were receiving public assistance
  • The report describes geographic differences in the findings. For example, when looking at the national average, women receiving public assistance had a higher fertility rate than those not receiving assistance. I expect that this is a headline you’ll see across the media and blogosphere, despite the disclaimer that “There is no implied causality between fertility rates and receipt of public assistance, as we do not know specifically when the women had a birth or when they began and ended their receipt of public assistance.”

    What you likely won’t hear is that in 33 states there was no statistically significant difference between those receiving and not receiving assistance, and in seven states women receiving public assistance were less likely than others to have given birth in the previous twelve months. Figure 5 of the report also reveals a geographic clustering of more women than average living below the poverty line throughout the southern United States.

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