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The Fertility of American Women

By Wilson H. Grabill; Clyde V. Kiser et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8 MARRIAGE AND FERTILITY1

A. Marriage, widowhood, and divorce

Legitimacy of marriage and births. In the United States marriages are licensed by the State and performed either by the clergy or by lay officials. Some consensual or informal "marriages" do occur, perhaps particularly among small groups of Negroes of the lower class, Spanish- Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Indians.

On the basis of national vital statistics for 1950, it would seem that at least 4 percent of the births in that year were illegitimate. This includes an estimate of illegitimate births in the thirteen States in which the birth record includes no question about legitimacy. Allowing for some misreporting of legitimacy in other States, the true number of illegitimate births may be upward of 200,000 per year, or 6 percent of the total births for the country. It is probable that most of the mothers rearing an illegitimate child are reported in the census as married, widowed, or divorced; perhaps many of these women married after the birth of the child. In 1940, only 13,400, or 0.1 percent, of the single native white women 15 to 49 years and only 16,040, or 1.5 percent, of the single Negro women of this age, were identifiable as mothers of children under 5 years old.

Distribution of population by marital status.Figure 101 shows the distribution of the population by age, sex, and marital status in 1950. As expected, most women of childbearing age, 15 to 44 years, were married. The proportion of women who were married increased rapidly after the age of 17 or 18 years, and it may be inferred that many of the women married within the narrow age range of 18 to 24 years. Men tended to marry over a wider age range.

Trends in percentage of women who have married. Trends in the percentage of women of childbearing age who have ever married are shown in table 96. The proportion ever married increased slightly between 1900 and 1930, decreased between 1930 and 1940, and increased greatly between 1940 and 1950 among women in age groups under 30

____________________
1
A further and more complete discussion of marriage and family building patterns appear in another census monograph: Paul C. Glick, American Families, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1957.

-284-

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