Jason DeParle & Sabrina Tavernise. (February 2012). For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside of Marriage. The New York Times.
“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 of marriage.”
While statistics among all mothers still show that most (about 59% according to data from 2009) are married when they have children, there has been as of late a surge in births outside of marriage, particularly among women under the age of 30. This, according to the authors of this article, is “both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.”
One major factor in determining whether women marry before having children, according to the research, is educational attainment. Overwhelmingly college graduates get married first, and this fact alone is slowly dividing the American family structure between those who have and those who do not. The people with the most education (and thus in many cases those of higher income) receive the most economic and social benefits from getting married, while the lower class sees marriage as a “luxury good” and often unattainable.
Understandably this is also having a detrimental affect on the lives of young people. Research has found that “children born outside of marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.” Research in child development also shows that children who grow up with single parents have less financial and educational advantages than those who grow up with both parents, which further contributes to systemic generational issues potentially caused by children born to one parent.
One 27-year-old unmarried mother interviewed for this article, when asked her views on marriage, responded “I’d like to do it, but I just don’t see it happening right now. Most of my friends say it’s just a piece of paper, and it doesn’t work out anyway.” Ironically, while this is a bleak view of marriage, for those couples who live together without getting married (which is almost all of non-marital births un the United States), it is somewhat true. According to research done by the University of Michigan, some “two-thirds of (unmarried) couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.”
Still another reason for the decline in marriage in the United States has to do with economics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings have fallen about 8% in the last 30 years among men with some college experience but no degrees, in stark contrast to women with the same level of educational attainment, whose earnings have risen 8% in the same number of years. The differences in earning potential of males versus females over the years has caused, among other things, women to see themselves more and more as able to function without men, even with children present.
“Some unwed mothers cite the failures of their parents’ marriages as reasons to wait”, or to not get married at all. One 21-year-old whose father left her and her mother when she was 13 stated that her reason for not marrying the father of her child as “I don’t want to end up like my mom.”
It is for these reasons and others (cited by the article) that, according to a sociologist from the University of Virginia, “marriage is not as fundamental to society as it once was.” This may be old news to some, but for others it foreshadows drastic changes for the future of the American family.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Do you agree or disagree with any of the reasons stated above for being against marriage? Why or why not?
2. What do you see as the impact of the rise in single parent families? Explain your answer.
3. Are you the child of a single parent household? If so, what did you see, if anything, as some of the struggles of growing up in that environment? If you grew up with both parents present, how do you feel that influenced who you are now?
4. To what extent do you think grandparents and relatives are involved in helping to raise children of single moms?
If it is true that “marriage is not as fundamental to society as it once was,” then this has some heavy implications for what “family” will look like in the coming decades. Having two parents in a household has been shown to be beneficial for healthy development of children, just as not having both parents present has had systemic implications for this and future generations of children.
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