White and nonwhite trends in first birth timing: Comparisons using vital registration and current population surveys

Research paper by S. Philip Morgan, Nikolai Botev, Renbao Chen, Jianping Huang

Indexed on: 01 Aug '99Published on: 01 Aug '99Published in: Population research and policy review


The magnitude of racial differences in first birth timing vary greatly depending upon the data sources from which they are estimated. Vital registration data (Heuser 1976; with updates from the National Center for Health Statistics 1974–1990) show that in recent years nonwhites have higher risks of a first birth at virtually all ages compared to whites. As a result very large and historically novel differentials in childlessness are forecast using these data (see Rindfuss et al. 1988; Chen & Morgan 1991; Morgan & Chen 1992). However, retrospective fertility history data collected from the 1980, 1985 and 1990 Current Population Surveys (CPS) suggest much smaller racial differences in completed childlessness and isolate racial differences in probabilities of first births at young ages. Differences also exist between theses two series for whites prior to the mid-1960s but not afterwards. Reasons for these differing estimates are suggested and examined. We conclude that a substantial portion of the differences result from an accumulation of biases in the vital registration estimates that affect primarily estimates of first birth timing. Thus, the CPS data provide a more firm basis for racial comparisons of first birth timing.