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Number of unwed mothers increasing

For the first time, more than a million babies were born to unmarried mothers in the United States in a year, but contrary to stereotype, the rates aren't highest among teen-agers, researchers said Thursday. The national Centers for Disease Control reported that 1,005,299 babies _ 26 percent of U.S. newborns _ were born to unmarried women in 1988, the latest year for such statistics. In 1980, 665,747 babies were born to single mothers, 18 percent of births.

The highest birth rate for unmarried women is in the 20-24 age group: 57 births per 1,000 women in that group in 1988. Women 18-19 were next, with a rate of 53, but they were followed by women 25-29, with a rate of 48, and women 30-34, with a rate of 32.

The birth rate for unmarried girls from 15 to 17 was a comparatively low 27 births per 1,000.

"We're seeing a shift in the typical age of the unmarried mother," said Stephanie Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics. "Increasingly, they're older than they used to be."

Rates are up for all age groups, but the sharpest increases have occurred for older women. The rate for women 15-17 rose 29 percent from 1980 to 1988. The rate for women 30-34 rose 52 percent.

By race, babies born to unmarried women accounted for 63 percent of the black babies born in the United States, 34 percent of Hispanic babies and 18 percent of white babies.

Infants born to unmarried women are much more likely to be born at low birth weights, lessening their chances for a healthy life, Ventura said. "In any age group, there's a fairly wide gap between the (babies of) married and unmarried," she said.