May 11, 2017

6 facts about U.S. mothers

Cultura/Seb Oliver
Cultura/Seb Oliver

American motherhood has changed in many ways since Mother’s Day was first celebrated more than 100 years ago. Today’s moms are more educated than ever before. A majority of women with a young child are in the labor force, and more mothers are serving as their family’s sole or primary “breadwinner.” At the same time, the share of women who are stay-at-home moms has increased in recent years.

Here are some key findings about American mothers and motherhood from Pew Research Center reports:

1The number of Millennial moms is on the rise. Millennial women (those born from 1981 to 1997) accounted for 82% of U.S. births in 2015. The number of Millennial moms has grown rapidly in recent years and reached more than 16 million in 2015.

Although Millennial women now account for the vast majority of annual U.S. births, they appear to be waiting longer to become parents, compared with prior generations. Around four-in-ten Millennial women (42%) ages 18 to 33 were moms in 2014. When women from Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) were in the same age range, by contrast, 49% were already moms.

The delay in motherhood among Millennials reflects a broader long-term trend. Women’s mean age at first birth was 26 in 2013, up from 21 in 1970.

2Mothers are having fewer children overall, but highly educated moms are having more. In 1976, four-in-ten mothers near the end of their childbearing years (ages 40-44) had four or more children, while about a quarter (24%) had two kids. By 2014, four-in-ten mothers in this age group (41%) had two children and only 14% had four or more.

Despite the decline of the four-child family and rise of the two-child family, highly educated women are more likely to have children and to have bigger families than in the past. Six-in-ten women ages 40 to 44 with at least a master’s degree had two or more children in 2014, up from 51% in 1994. At the same time, roughly one-in-five women ages 40 to 44 with a master’s degree or higher (22%) had no children in 2014, down from 30% in 1994. (Even so, it remains the case that highly educated women tend to have fewer children than women with less education.)

3Foreign-born moms account for a rising share of U.S. births. Among U.S.-born women, annual births have decreased over the past several decades. But among the foreign born, births have increased, driven both by growing shares of the U.S. foreign-born population and by relatively high birth rates among that group. In 2014, there were 58.3 births per 1,000 U.S.-born women ages 15 to 44; by contrast, there were 84.2 births per 1,000 foreign-born women in this age group. While 14% of the population was foreign-born in 2014, about a quarter of all U.S. newborns had foreign-born mothers.

Foreign-born mothers are less likely than U.S.-born mothers to be unmarried. A third of all births to foreign-born mothers were to unmarried women in 2014, compared with 42% for U.S.-born women. Yet births outside of marriage vary dramatically among the foreign born, depending on their country of origin. Just 1% of new mothers from India, for example, are unmarried. On the other hand, roughly two-thirds of births to women from Honduras are to unmarried mothers.

4The share of mothers in the labor force increased steadily from 1975 to 2000 but has leveled off since then. A majority of mothers work outside the home today. Seven-in-ten moms with kids younger than 18 were in the labor force in 2014, up from 47% in 1975. In fact, mothers are the primary breadwinners in four-in-ten U.S. families.

In nearly half (46%) of households with a mother and father, both parents are employed full time, up from 31% in 1970. Working mothers (60%) are somewhat more likely than fathers (52%) to say balancing work and family is difficult. While a majority of parents from dual, full-time working households say certain household responsibilities are shared equally, about half (54%) say the mother does more when it comes to managing children’s schedules and activities.

5Among women who take maternity leave, higher-income mothers take twice as much leave, on average, as lower-income moms. Among parents who took leave following the birth or adoption of a child in the past two years, mothers took a median of 11 weeks, while fathers took a median of one week. However, the amount of maternity leave taken varies by income. Higher-income mothers (those with household incomes of $75,000 or higher) typically take longer maternity leaves than mothers with incomes under $30,000 (12 weeks vs. six weeks).

Among women who took maternity leave, around half (53%) say they wish they had taken more time off from work following the birth or adoption of their child, while 36% say they took as much time off as they needed or wanted. Most parental leave takers say taking time off from work did not have much of an impact on their job or career (60%). However, women are about twice as likely as men to say taking parental leave had a negative impact (25% vs. 13%).

6Moms’ parenting experiences vary by the age of their children. The vast majority of mothers (and fathers) say being a parent is very or extremely important to their identity. About nine-in-ten moms with children younger than 18 also say being a parent is both rewarding and enjoyable at least most of the time. Yet mothers’ experiences with parenting vary by how old their children are. Moms whose oldest child is age 5 or younger are more likely than moms whose youngest child is age 13 to 17 to say parenting is enjoyable all of the time (54% versus 41%).

Topics: Family Roles, Birth Rate and Fertility, Gender, Work and Employment, Family and Relationships, Parenthood, Household and Family Structure

  1. Photo of Kristen Bialik

    is a research assistant at Pew Research Center.