It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.
Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.
Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.
The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill. Liberal analysts argue that shrinking paychecks have thinned the ranks of marriageable men, while conservatives often say that the sexual revolution reduced the incentive to wed and that safety net programs discourage marriage.
Large racial differences remain: 73 percent of black children are born outside marriage, compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites. And educational differences are growing. About 92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.
Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.
Other [women] noted that if they married, their official household income would rise, which could cost them government benefits like food stamps and child care. W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, said other government policies, like no-fault divorce, signaled that “marriage is not as fundamental to society” as it once was.
Even as many Americans withdraw from marriage, researchers say, they expect more from it: emotional fulfillment as opposed merely to practical support. “Family life is no longer about playing the social role of father or husband or wife, it’s more about individual satisfaction and self-development,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.
Money helps explain why well-educated Americans still marry at high rates: they can offer each other more financial support, and hire others to do chores that prompt conflict. But some researchers argue that educated men have also been quicker than their blue-collar peers to give women equal authority. “They are more willing to play the partner role,” said Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist.
Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University recently found that children born to married couples, on average, “experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”
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This is one of those, “Well, duh!” articles, but it’s still helpful to see some statistics about it. Doesn’t really answer why children are being born out of wedlock however. Just that they are.
There are quite a few men out there that don’t want to assume responsibility of a child, most of them from recent generations. But then again, there are a few women who feel like they don’t need/want the father around either. What the article has to say on children could never be more truthful: yeah, it fucking hurts the kid more than it does the parent (this is coming from experience).
And not marrying because you still want food stamps? That’s just… wow. I’m not religious, but I do believe there is a sanctity in marriage that is clearly being ignored for the sake of selfishness.