Number of unmarried birth mothers increased in two Oklahoma cities

Sunday, March 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The number of women having babies out-of-wedlock in Oklahoma's two largest cities grew at a pace greater than the national average during the 1990s, a national report found.

Child Trends, a national research center, and KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, used nine years of data from the National Center for Health Statistics to track eight major indicators of a health life for newborns.

The national report showed that Tulsa's percentage of unwed birth mothers increased from 30 percent in 1990 to 39 percent in 1998. In Oklahoma City, the percentage of unwed birth mothers rose from 34 percent to 42 percent during the same period.

According to the Right Start City Trends report, the rise in such births outpaced the upward trend of unmarried birth mothers in the country's 50 largest cities.

``It tells us we have to analyze these issues to get to the reasons behind the increase,'' said Sharon Rodine of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

Rodine said teens account for only a small percentage of the overall number of unmarried women giving birth. The report showed Oklahoma City and Tulsa teen births in 1998 were near 15 percent, which is average among the 50 largest U.S. cities.

The Oklahoma numbers may indicate a change in social norms, said Carol Emig of the Child Trends' national office in Washington.

``We've seen an increase in unmarried couples living together,'' Emig said. ``It's logical that children are being born to some of those couples.''

She said children in two-parent households typically fare better than those raised by a single parent.

``Research shows that children with a single mother are more likely to be poor, drop out of school and become single parents themselves,'' Emig said.

Single mothers are less likely to get prenatal care and often are too poor to afford health insurance, Emig said. Children born to single mothers also have higher infant mortality rates.

Some statistics indicate single motherhood isn't always planned.

According to state Health Department records, the number of unintended pregnancies in Oklahoma has increased since 1994. Rodine said this shows a need for more pregnancy-prevention education.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy supports pregnancy prevention programs, but most are aimed at teens in school, she said.

The national report also shows the number of pregnant Oklahomans who smoke declined slightly in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but those cities continue to have a higher percentage of pregnant smokers than other cities.

About 19 percent of Oklahoma City women smoked while pregnant in 1998, while 17 percent of Tulsa women smoked while pregnant, statistics showed. The 50-city average was 11 percent.

Keeping with a national trend, Oklahoma showed a significant increase in the number of women receiving prenatal care. The report showed Tulsa and Oklahoma City are on par with the national average in that area as well as with the number of pre-term births and low-birth weight babies.

The report showed that nationally, babies are getting a healthier start because women are smoking less and seeking medical care while pregnant.