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Q:  

Can one look at fertility in the American Community Survey (ACS)? Is there a children ever born question?

A:  

The ACS has surprisingly good information on family formation (marriage, cohabitation, and fertility). The following is a link to tables that one can produce with ACS data:

http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/fertility/mar-fert-slides.html

The ACS does not ask the "children ever born" question, but instead asks about a birth in the past year. This is asked of all women 15-50 regardless of marital status.

Children in the household are identified on the basis of the relationship to head question. Thus, one can frequently infer the number of children ever born for young mothers (<35). As a woman ages, it is likely that at least some of her children have moved out of the household.

The ACS is particularly good for items one cannot get from the vital statistics system. This would include marriage/divorce statistics. Likewise, cohabitation status is not an item on marriage and/or birth certificates. Thus, only with ACS data can one determine living arrangements of parents.

There is some slippage. Living arrangements in the ACS are reported at the time of the survey, not at the time of the birth. Thus, some parents may marry after the birth of the child and show up as married in the ACS and unmarried in the vital statistics system. However, the comparison between the ACS and the vital statistics system for births by state is quite good.

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