The United States has seen a welcome fall in teen pregnancies and
a leveling off of out-of-wedlock births, but the rates remain at
crisis levels in many cities.
In eight of America's 40 largest cities, unmarried women give
birth to more than 3 out of every 5 children - roughly twice the
national average. And it's happening in poor urban areas already
struggling with other social and economic problems.
Researchers have gained some insight into what helps reduce teen
pregnancy, but they don't yet know what programs, if any, can
influence women in their twenties. These older women, recent census
figures show, account for two-thirds of out-of-wedlock births.
But time is running out to find out. Next year, Congress must
reauthorize the 1996 welfare-reform act that made reducing
nonmarital births a top priority. While several experiments are
under way, they're barely old enough to evaluate properly.
"I don't think there's a lot of known information about what
works," says Andrea Kane, outreach coordinator for the Brookings
Institution's welfare-reform initiative in Washington.
The attention is long overdue. Out-of-wedlock births have
skyrocketed in the past half-century. In 1940, only 3.8 percent of
American women were not married when they gave birth. By 1994, that
rate had climbed to 32.6 percent. Since then, the rate has hovered
around 33 percent, although it remains alarmingly high in some
cities, according to census data released last month.
Take Baltimore. More than 3 out of 4 residents who gave birth
there in the past 12 months were unmarried, according to census
estimates. That was tops among America's 40 largest cities and three
times the rate of Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, which ranked
near the bottom of the list.
Income and education levels probably explain much of the
difference, experts suggest. For example, Baltimore ranks among the
10 large cities with the lowest median household incomes and the
smallest share of residents with college degrees, according to
census estimates. Austin and San Francisco rank near the top in both
Baltimore also has one of the highest proportions of African-
American residents. Historically, unmarried black women have given
birth at much higher rates than unmarried whites, demographers point
out. While that rate has fallen dramatically since 1970 - and risen
even more dramatically for whites - African-American women are still
twice as likely to give birth out of wedlock than are their white
counterparts, according to a study last year for the National Center
for Health Statistics.
In all, 7 of the top 10 cities for out-of-wedlock births also
rank in the 10 cities with the highest percentages of black
residents, according to census data. …