A baby boomlet in Minnesota, and mama's older

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • March 19, 2009 - 8:42 AM

More moms in Minnesota and across the country are having babies -- a baby boomlet that is even outstripping the 1950s. But a higher percentage of them than ever before are unmarried.

Unlike years ago, the vast majority of those unmarried moms are over the age of 20.

Alesha Simmons, 36, had her first son at age 18. She had her second when she was 26. In neither case did the Minneapolis woman feel compelled to get married in order to be a good parent or to forge a solid parenting partnership with her boys' dads.

These days, she has a lot more company.

"I do know other moms like me," said Simmons, who is getting married in August. "Some of them are in relationships. Some of them have had in vitro. Some of them may want kids, but may not want a partner."

According to a review of most 2007 birth certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the birth rate in the U.S. rose slightly for women of all ages. But births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent, continuing a trend begun years ago. While teen pregnancies have increased over the past two years, more than three-quarters of these unmarried new moms were 20 or older.

Minnesota saw nearly 74,000 births in 2007 -- up from 71,000 in 2005. Nearly 33 percent of new Minnesota moms in 2007 were unmarried -- up from 27 percent in 2001.

More than 42 percent of them were age 25 and older; less than 20 percent were ages 15-19. Compare that with 1990, when more than 30 percent of unwed moms in Minnesota were 19 or younger and just 33 percent were 25 and older.

It's more acceptable

For a variety of reasons, it's become more acceptable for women to have babies without a husband, said Duke University's S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.

Even happy couples may be living together without getting married, experts say. Some cited a growing trend among all adult women to have children regardless of their marital status.

Simmons said it's not that she wasn't interested in marrying her sons' dads. But she didn't consider it a requirement for raising them well. She has maintained a close relationship with both dads, who are intimately involved in raising the boys. They even take vacations together.

"Ideally, people would like to have a partner," she said. "But that is not always a possibility. It's more about making sure the child has a healthy environment."

She said she thinks that the advancement of women in the workplace, making more money and moving higher on the career ladder, has made it less financially necessary for parents to marry. Simmons works in corporate lending.

"Maybe a lot of those women are making money and saying we can do this ourselves."

U.S. fertility rates are higher in every racial group, according to the CDC study. On average, a U.S. woman has 2.1 babies in her lifetime. That's the "magic number" required for a population to replace itself. But that birth rate is nothing like what occurred in the 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each.

Countries with much lower rates -- such as Japan and Italy -- face future labor shortages and eroding tax bases as they fail to reproduce enough to take care of their aging elders.

Boomlet may bust soon

But it's not clear the boomlet will last long. Some experts think birth rates are already declining because of the economic recession that began in late 2007.

"I expect they'll go back down. The lowest birth rates recorded in the United States occurred during the Great Depression -- and that was before modern contraception," said Dr. Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health.

The 2007 snapshot reflected a relatively good economy coupled with cultural trends that promoted childbirth, she and others noted.

Meanwhile, U.S. abortions have been dropping to their lowest levels in decades, according to other reports. Cultural attitudes may be an explanation.

Morgan noted the pregnancy of Bristol Palin, the unmarried teen daughter of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The young woman had a baby boy in December, and plans for a wedding with the father, Levi Johnston, were scrapped.

"She's the poster child for what you do when you get pregnant now," Morgan said.

Staff writer Maria Baca and the Associated Press contributed to this report. James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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