Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Births Outside of Marriage Decline for Immigrant Women

1. Growth in annual U.S. births since 1970 driven entirely by immigrant moms

Births to immigrant moms tripled since 1970

In 2014 more than 900,000 births in the U.S. were to foreign-born mothers. That marks a threefold increase from 1970, when 274,000 babies were born to immigrant mothers10 The trend in births to U.S.-born women has moved in the opposite direction – from 3.46 million births in 1970 to 3.10 million in 2014 (an 11% drop). As a result of these divergent trends, the increase in the overall number of U.S. births, from 3.74 million in 1970 to 4.0 million in 2014, is due entirely to births to foreign-born mothers.11

The annual number of births to all mothers – immigrant and native born – fell off substantially during and after the Great Recession. Birth declines among the foreign born were both more dramatic and more enduring than those of U.S.-born women. While the number of births to U.S.-born mothers began to inch back up as early as 2012, it wasn’t until 2014 that the number of babies born to foreign-born women ticked up.

Even given the birth declines associated with the Great Recession, by 2014, 23% of all babies born in the U.S. had immigrant mothers, up from just 7% in 1970. This long-term rise in the share of births to foreign-born women is partially – but not entirely – driven by growth in the overall U.S. immigrant population. In 1970, just 5% of the U.S. population was foreign born; by 2014, that share had grown considerably, to 14%.

One factor likely contributing to the disproportionate share of births to immigrant women is the age and sex structure of the population. In 2014, while 14% of the entire U.S. population was comprised of immigrants, fully 17% of childbearing-age women in the U.S. were foreign born.

Birth rates among foreign-born women have been consistently higher than those of U.S.-born women

Nativity differences in the age and sex profile don’t explain all of the fertility differences between the foreign born and U.S. born. Even taking into consideration the growth in the share of immigrant women of childbearing age, it’s still the case that foreign-born women account for a disproportionately large share of births. This is due in part to the fact that foreign-born women in the U.S. have higher fertility than their U.S.-born counterparts. In 2014, the birth rate – children born per 1,000 women of childbearing age – stood at 84.2 for immigrant women. In comparison, the rate for U.S.-born women was 58.3. In other words, a foreign-born woman of childbearing age was about 44% more likely than her U.S.-born counterpart to have had a recent birth.12

This has been a consistent pattern since at least 1970, when the modern wave of immigration, mainly from Latin America and Asia, was getting underway. The birth rate that year was 121.5 for immigrant women, while the rate for U.S.-born women was 86.5.

In 2006, just before the start of the recession, birth rates of foreign-born women were almost 70% higher than those of U.S.-born women (103.0 vs. 61.5). These differences have diminished somewhat since then, as immigrant birth rates have declined more rapidly than the birth rates of U.S.-born women in the wake of the Great Recession.

Though overall U.S. birth rates ticked up just prior to the recession, in the long term, they have declined noticeably. In 1970 the rate was 88.5 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, and after hitting a historical low of 62.3 in 2013, rates inched up for the first time since the recession in 2014, to 62.8.13 The 2014 U.S. birth rate is about 29% lower than it was in 1970.14 For both the foreign born and U.S. born, long-term declines in fertility have been more dramatic – by 2014 the rate among the foreign born had dropped 31% since 1970 and among the U.S. born, there was a 33% decline.15

U.S. births to unauthorized immigrant parents

About 275,000 babies were born to unauthorized-immigrant parents in 2014, or about 7% of all births in the U.S. that year, according to new Pew Research Center estimates based on government data. This represented a decline from 330,000 in 2009, at the end of the Great Recession.

Births to unauthorized immigrants accounted for about one-in-three (32%) births to foreign-born mothers in 2014, according to the estimates.

The 2014 estimates of births to unauthorized immigrants are based on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, using the widely accepted residual methodology employed by Pew Research Center for many years. By comparison, the findings in this report about the number of U.S. births to foreign-born mothers are based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Both data sources produce very similar results in terms of the number of U.S. births to immigrant mothers and their share of all U.S. births.

  1. The focus throughout most of this report is on maternal characteristics, due in part to the dearth of data available regarding fertility from the father’s perspective. For more on these limitations, see “College-educated men take their time becoming dads.
  2. The outsized role that immigrants have played in U.S. births has contributed to their influence on overall U.S. population growth as well. According to calculations from Pew Research Center, immigrants who have arrived since 1965, along with their children and grandchildren, accounted for some 55% of U.S. population growth since that time, and future immigrants and their descendants are expected to account for fully 88% of population growth over the next half century.
  3. Birth rate is just one measure of fertility – one that focuses on fertility within a given year, as opposed to lifetime fertility. Other measures provide alternative perspectives on fertility.
  4. The birth rates used in this report differ slightly from published NCHS figures. See Methodology for more details.
  5. The birth rate ticked back down to 62.5 in 2015, according to a newly released NCHS report. Data regarding 2015 birth rates by nativity are not yet available.
  6. It may seem counterintuitive that the birth rates for both foreign-born and U.S.-born women have declined more dramatically since 1970 than the overall U.S. birth rate. This phenomenon results from the fact that the share of childbearing-age women who are foreign born (who have markedly higher birth rates than U.S.-born women) has increased substantially since that time. Given their relatively high fertility, the growing size of this group has buoyed the overall U.S. fertility rate and kept it from falling more precipitously.
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