Population Research and Policy Review 18: 339–356, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
White and nonwhite trends in ﬁrst birth timing: Comparisons
using vital registration and current population surveys
S. PHILIP MORGAN
, NIKOLAI BOTEV
, RENBAO CHEN
UN Economic Commission for Europe;
National University of
University of Pennsylvania
Abstract. 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.
Keywords: Fertility, First birth timing, Racial differences, USA, Vital registration
Using vital registration data, Rindfuss et al. (1988) and Chen & Morgan
(1991) document a sharp racial divergence in the ﬁrst birth timing of whites
and nonwhites (also see Bloom 1982; Evans 1986). These researchers use the
well-known and widely-used Heuser (1976) time series (with updates from
the National Center for Health Statistics, NCHS 1974–1990). This series of
fertility estimates takes birth rate numerators from vital registration counts
and denominators from census estimates of the populations at risk. These
data show that nonwhites have higher risks of a ﬁrst birth at virtually all ages
compared to whites. As a result very large and historically novel differen-
tials in childlessness were forecast using these data (Chen & Morgan 1991;
Morgan & Chen 1992).