Just when we think things along the racial, economic and generational divide couldn’t get worse now comes a report indicating that for women under 30, two-thirds of live births occur outside of marriage. According to the report, college graduates still overwhelmingly marry before having children. Married college graduates still earn more than unmarried non-college households.
Not only are we becoming a nation of bastards, America is becoming a nation of “poor bastards.”
This problem has long afflicted the poor and black communities, but as the report indicates it has gone mainstream. To many this will seem like old news. And it is to grandparents, teachers, and family assistance workers.
The nature of social data analysis is to deliver old news of an empirical reality. For policy makers and social researchers, it takes data to confirm that our noses are actually in the middle of our faces.
The Sunday NY Times published this story about the report by Child Trends, a Washington, DC research group that analyzes government data.
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.
Ironically, this report is being discussed just after the political tussle over requiring Catholic nonprofits to provide health insurance coverage for contraception. Feminists, Members of Congress, GOP presidential candidates, media talking heads and comedians jumped all over the issue.
The GOP-controlled House held a hearing on female contraception and was roundly criticized for having a panel of male experts lead off the hearing. Birth control advocates said that men were trying to control women’s bodies and choices.
Polls were trotted out showing that women (even Catholic women) overwhelmingly favor government-mandated insurance coverage for birth control.
Apparently, someone forgot to tell these poor black, white and Hispanic women about their right to contraception.
Rick Santorum cited the availability of birth control as the spark for the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, and the decline of the family (i.e., marriage). Although I’ve written many times that correlation is not causation, I believe Santorum is making a legitimate point.
Same-sex marriage, out-of-wedlock births, female single-headed households and economic stagnation are forcing us to confront an evolving social paradigm.
It’s now a matter of the genie being out of the bottle and being careful about you wish for. I think an improving economy that enables men and women to be equal partners is important. As I’ve argued before about making black men relevant in the lives of women and children, we must make all men relevant — materially and spiritually — to families.
As a nation, we must also address the rampant narcissism that has enraptured our national culture. Or get used to this unsettling new paradigm.
What should we do to avoid becoming a nation of “poor bastards?”
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