Report claims 48 percent of first children now born to unwed mothers

CNS News reports on some astonishing, and ominous, statistics concerning marriage and child-rearing:

Calling it “The Great Crossover,” a report by academics and social activists shows that for the first time in history the median age of American women having babies is lower than the median age of marriage – 25.7 and 26.5, respectively.

These “dramatic changes in childbearing,” the report states, results in dramatic statistics about American children. Among them, 48 percent of first births are by unwed mothers, and by age 30 two-thirds of American women have had a child, typically out of wedlock.

Kay Hymowitz, an author of the report and a William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said at an event to release the report on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, that it reflects how the view of what marriage is about has changed.

This includes young adults who say marriage and children “are two separate things,” Hymowitz said.

And that is a very bad thing.  It might just be a fatal social toxin.

The connection between marriage and family is crucial for the survival of any civilization.  From that linkage flow countless benefits.  Children are far better off when born to a married couple; the social pathologies accompanying illegitimacy are so horrific that to deny this obvious truth borders on eye-rolling insanity.  This is not to say that a single mother or father cannot possibly do a good job of raising a child; obviously many of them do, and they deserve great respect for their efforts.  I am a child of divorce myself, raised by a miracle-working single mother.

But across a vast population, the disadvantages to birth out wedlock – economic hardship, the absence of a father (or, less commonly, mother) figure – are crushing, for both child and single parent.  The report, entitled “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” counts this among the costs of what it terms “The Great Crossover.”

This crossover happened decades ago among the least economically privileged. The crossover among “Middle American” women—that is, women who have a high-school degree or some college—has been rapid and recent. By contrast, there has been no crossover for college-educated women, who typically have their first child more than two years after marrying.

The crossover is cause for concern primarily because children born outside of marriage—including to cohabiting couples—are much more likely to experience family instability, school failure, and emotional problems. In fact, children born to cohabiting couples are three times more likely to see their parents break up, compared to children born to married parents.

It sounds, from this assessment, like middle-class women are following the road to poverty.  Delaying marriage, as the report notes, includes significant income benefits, and helps to reduce the rate of divorce… but only if child-bearing is also delayed.  If young people are decoupling marriage from children, they aren’t learning this lesson.  (Actually, it is also noted that “twentysomethings who are unmarried, especially singles, are significantly more likely to drink to excess, to be depressed, and to report lower levels of satisfaction with their lives, compared to married twentysomethings,” so even if children are not involved, delayed marriage has its costs.)

This probably also has something to do with the increased support for same-sex marriage among young people.  If marriage is strongly associated with childbirth, participants of the opposite sex are obviously much more important.

The reasons for the rise of first children born out of wedlock are both intriguing and frustratingly vague:

“Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone’ – that is, something they do after they have all their ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood,” the report states.

The report cites two reasons – middle class American men having difficulty finding stable employment that allows them to support a family and “a less understood” reason about the disconnect between marriage and childbearing.

Perhaps the “Knot Yet” researchers will get cracking on that “less understood reason,” because it sounds like something we really ought to understand, pronto.  But the cultural conclusion they do make seems somewhat contradicted by their own report – young people might indeed view marriage as “something they do after they have all their ducks in a row,” but they clearly do not view “parenthood” that way, or we wouldn’t have this soaring illegitimacy rate.

The economic pressure against marriage cited by the report seems like a nasty vicious circle, because if men are holding off on marriage because they don’t think they can support a family, but they’re not holding off on siring children, they’re producing an even larger generation of young people who will hold off even longer on marriage because they don’t think they can afford it.  One of the great advantages to being raised in a stable family is that it provides an excellent launch pad for the young person’s independent life.  Education, the search for a first job, settling down into a home of your own… these things are all much easier with the emotional and practical support of a married mother and father, particularly in the lower income echelons.

Last year, the New York Times covered a report that “looked at the decline in marriage rates over the last 50 years and found a strong connection to income: Dwindling marriage rates are concentrated among the poor — the very people whose living standards would be most improved by having a second household income.”  A mindset among young people that views marriage as an expensive luxury, rather than a tremendous benefit to both married couples and their children, could be contributing to that unfortunate phenomenon.

Maintaining the population requires, as a simple matter of mathematics, that a great many people raise more than one child.  Actually, it is necessary for a great many couples to raise more than two children.  Those children will, on average, have vastly better lives if they are born to a married couple that stays together.  Anything that distracts our young people from appreciating these simple truths is inhumane, and dangerous.