The math on Black out of wedlock births

Sorry to go here again guys, but this subject keeps cropping up and is totally misunderstood. In the vein a commenter Stonetools writes:

TNC and others disputed that 7O percent of black children are born out of wedlock. Here is one source that supports that figure.

Government statistics reveal that the percentage of all babies born to unwed mothers nationally rose to 32 percent in 1997 from only 5.3 percent in 1960. Among blacks nationally, 69 percent of births were to unwed mothers.

http://www.dadi.org/dn_bleak.htm

Here is another source that says that in Indiana, 80 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

http://blackamericans.com/blogs/news/archive/2008/01/25/about-80-of-black-babies-are-born-to-unwed-moms.aspx

the scholars are united that most black children are in fact born out of wedlock.

In fact, I dispute no such thing. Here is what the commenter is referring to:

The basic conclusion is that the birth rate for unmarried black women is--and has been--declining. In 1970 the birth rate for unmarried black women was 96 per 1,000. In 1980, it was 87.9. In 2005 it was 60.6. There is a huge spike in the late 1980s, but the overal trend is clear--the birth rate for unmarried black women has been declining for almost 40 years.

Something else that should add some context to that 70 percent figure which we all love. The birth rate for married black women has declined way more for married black women than it has for married white women.  Also, the birth rate for unmarried women overall is on the increase, but that seems to be being driven by an increase among white and Hispanic women. It's also worth noting that the rate for unmarried black women is still waaayyyy higher than the rate for white women, while lower than the rate for Hispanic women. 

I was not a statistics major in college. If anyone wants to debunk these or add context, I'm totally open.

The data to support this can be found here and here. In other words, no one disputes that 70 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock--or maybe they do, I never have. What we dispute are the reasons why. One notion that's gained quite a bit of currency is that over the last 40 years, black mothers have, for whatever reason, decided that they'd much rather be single mothers. But the facts don't back this up. As the data shows unmarried black women are having less, not more, kids then they were having 40 years ago. Furthermore, the number of unmarried black women having kids is declining, while the number of unmarried women--overall--having babies is increasing. From the report:

In 1970 the rate for unmarried black women, 96 per 1,000, was nearly 7 times the rate for unmarried white women, 14. By 1998 this differential was just under 2; the rate for black women fell to 73 whereas the rate for white women rose to 38 per l,000.

The rate for unmarried white women more than doubled from 18 per 1,000 in 1980 to 38 in 1994, and has since changed little (38 in 1998). (The rate for non-Hispanic white women has also changed little since 1994; it was 28 in 1998.) In contrast, the rate for unmarried black
women increased about 12 percent from 81 in 1980 to 91 in 1989, and has declined steadily since, by 19 percent, to 73 per 1,000 in 1998 (figure 8 and table 3).

Rates for unmarried Hispanic women are available only since1990. The rate was highest in 1994, at 101 per 1,000, and has dropped11 percent since (figure 8, table 3). The birth rate for unmarried Hispanic women is the highest of any race or ethnicity group; this is consistent with the overall fertility patterns for Hispanic women (2, 4).

Now, you can argue, that double is still too high. What you can't argue is for any sort of "moral decline."


How can it be true that unmarried black women are having less kids, and yet the number of black babies born out of wedlock is 70 percent? Well, that question only looks at half the equation it never asks, "What is the behavior of maried black women?"

Birth rates for married black women have declined even more than rates for unmarried black women and are now quite similar (tables 3 and 8). As a result, the proportion of births to unmarried black women remains high, 69 percent in 1999. Birth rates by age for unmarried non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women have generally stabilized or declined during the mid-1990's, while rates for married women have been increasing. Despite this, the proportions of births to unmarried non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women increased during the 1990's.

Birth rates for married black women haven't just declined, they're actually lower than for married white women:

It is important to realize that the "percent of births" is not a birth rate. The birth rate is the number of births for every 1,000 women in a specific category. The last marital birth rates calculated by the National Center for Health Statistics were for 2002. In 2002, the black marital birth rate was 64.9 births for every 1,000 married black women. The white marital birth rate was 88.2 for every 1,000 married white women. The black marital birth rate was 23.3 births less than the white rate. In the past, the black marital birth rate was higher than the white rate. Because there is such a low number of births among married black women, the percent of births to unmarried black women is especially high.

To summarize--there is no data to show that the black "illegitimacy" figure of 70 percent has been caused by unmarried black women having more kids than they did in the past. In fact, the trend is the exact opposite. What is clear is that the behavior of married black women has changed, to the point that married black women are actually having less kids than married white women.

This is why stigmatizing lifestyles is a strategy for neanderthals, why it's always sinful to look past the weeds in your lawn in order to lecture your neighbor. I'll live for the day when all these social conservatives who think that the 70 percent figure is the cause of all that's wrong in black America, start hectoring married black people to have more kids.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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