Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!
Expand chart
Data: Council of Europe (2006), NIPSSR (2017), Eurostat (2018), and Martin et al. (2018) via United Nations Population Fund; Note: Final values for Russia and Japan are from 2015; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

While having a baby without being married was uncommon and stigmatized several decades ago, it's becoming the norm in many European countries — and even the U.S., according to a report released today by the United Nations Population Fund.

Why it matters: If having babies without being married becomes increasingly common, it could help stabilize falling fertility rates and avoid an aging, childless future, Michael Herrmann, a senior adviser for economics and demography at UNFPA, told Axios. But it's also likely to lead to more cultural friction, as social conservatives are unlikely to accept more births outside marriage.

How we got here: Demographers point to three key trends that have led to the rise in births outside of marriage:

  • The decline in importance of traditional marriage. While non-traditional forms of cohabitation have become more acceptable in many Western cultures, the social revolution has been much slower in many Asian cultures. That's why births outside of marriage are still rare in places such as Japan and Korea, Herrmann said.
  • Increased opportunity for women to obtain an education and launch successful careers has enabled them to provide for themselves without a husband. Many women, even if living with men, are opting to "keep their legal options open," said Richard Cincotta, director of the Global Political Demography Program at the Stimson Center.
  • More American men are facing unemployment or underemployment, drug use, and jail "due to the loss of secure, well-paid blue collar jobs," Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told Axios.

One notable exception: Russia also saw an increase in births outside of marriage in the 1980s and 1990s, when alcoholism and male mortality rose during the chaos following the collapse of communism, according to Goldstone.

  • But beginning in the early 2000s — as Vladimir Putin came to power — the share of births outside of marriage began to fall. Demographers say that's partly because of Putin's emphasis on traditional family values and new policies encouraging married couples to have more children.

The other side: The trend causes concern for social conservatives. "There's an abundance of evidence in the U.S. to indicate that children are better off with a married mother and father," Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told Axios. He added that the increase in births outside of marriage "portends less stability for children."

What to watch: While many of these unmarried parents are in committed relationships, others end up as single parents, and "ending up as a single parent means a huge burden," Herrmann said. Single mothers in the U.S., for example, are some of the most likely people to end up in poverty.

  • Developed nations that want to encourage higher fertility rates will need to find ways to provide more support for both single parents and married parents, Herrmann said.
  • Sweden and the Netherlands, for example, have some of the most generous support systems for new parents, including free child care and extensive paternity and maternity leave. They've managed to partially reverse the broader trend of people having fewer kids.

Go deeper

Updated 7 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden is delivering his inaugural address at the Capitol. Watch a livestream here.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.

Joe Biden sworn in as 46th president of the United States

Joe Biden was sworn in just before noon on Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States, in an inauguration ceremony unlike any other.

Why it matters: The 78-year-old Democrat assumes the presidency at a fraught moment for the country, which remains polarized and in the grips of a coronavirus crisis that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.