WASHINGTON — Nearly 1 in 5 American women beyond childbearing years never gave birth as fewer couples, particularly higher-educated whites, view having children as necessary to a good marriage.
An analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center, being released today, documents the changes in fertility rates that are driving government projections that U.S. minorities will become the majority by midcentury.
The figures show that among all women ages 40-44, about 18 percent, or 1.9 million, were childless in 2008. That’s up from 10 percent, or nearly 580,000 in 1976.
Broken down by race, roughly 20 percent of white women are childless, compared with 17 percent of blacks and of Hispanics and 16 percent of Asians. Still that gap has been narrowing: Since 1994, childlessness for blacks and Hispanics has grown by 30 percent, about three times the rate for whites.
The numbers coincide with broader U.S. trends of delayed marriage and increased opportunities for women, who now outnumber men in the work force and have drawn even with them in advanced degrees. After reaching a high of 3.7 children per woman during the baby boom, the U.S. fertility rate dropped to a historic low of 1.7 during the mid-1970s and stands at about 2.
The findings also come amid a historic demographic shift in which blacks, Hispanics, Asians and multiracial people are growing rapidly in the U.S. population and wielding more influence in politics and society. Minority babies now make up nearly half of all U.S. births.
“Social pressure to bear children appears to have diminished for women and that today, the decision to have a child is seen as an individual choice,” according to the report by Pew researchers Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn. “Improved opportunities and contraceptive methods help create alternatives for women.”
While higher-educated women overall are more likely to be childless, that may be slowly changing. In 2008, about 24 percent of women ages 40-44 with a master’s, doctoral or professional degree did not have children, a decline from 31 percent in 1994.