It made the February 18, 2012 front page of the San Jose Mercury News – “Motherhood Outside of Marriage Now the Norm.” It seems that more than half of U.S. births to women under 30 are outside the institution of marriage – 53 percent to be exact.
Wow! Times have really changed. It seems like yesterday that a single pregnant woman was cast out of society, and shamed like Hester Prynne, the main character in The Scarlet Letter. We remember the dark days of “back alley” abortions with their risk of death to the woman who had to save her “reputation” by ending her pregnancy. The rumor in Ellis’s family is that just those circumstances led to his own aunt’s demise before Ellis was born. That era is gone forever. What isn’t gone is the effect on a child of coming from an unmarried single-mother home.
For U.S. women of all ages and cultures, 41 percent of children are born out of wedlock according to “Child Trends’” 2009 data from the National Center for Health Statistics. According to the Mercury News, “researchers have consistently found that American children born outside of marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school, or suffering from emotional and behavioral problems.”
Paul R. Amato, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, focused on the reasons for these findings in a research paper, In summary, “He shows that compared with other children, those who grow up in stable, two-parent families have a higher standard of living, receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances.” (The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation , The International Child and Youth Care Network; CYC-Online; Issue 102, July 2007).
Although studies indicate that children who are brought up by married parents, in a stable household, fare much better, young single mothers of Lorain, Ohio do not perceive marriage as very attractive. A New York Times article about unmarried mothers in Lorain says that joblessness and legal issues are so common among young men who live there, that women in their 30s have pretty much given up on finding their right mates. A nursing student interviewed for the article stated that she didn’t want to get serious with another man after her daughter’s biological father was jailed on assault charges. She was quoted as saying, “I can’t imagine ever depending on a man. I don’t trust them.” It’s no wonder that sixty-three percent of all births to women under age 30 in Lorain County are without benefit of marriage (www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/young-mothers-describe-marriages-fading-allure).
Marriage among parents seems to indicate that children will have a greater chance of being in good shape economically when they take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Marriage and the Economic Well-Being of Families with Children: A Review of the Literature by Robert I. Lerman and prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a HHS Grant in 2002, clearly states that “Overall, the evidence from static analyses reveals clear and large economic gains associated with the marriage state.” The report also explains why a divorced mother fares financially better than one who didn’t marry: “Mothers who divorce often end up with a property settlement and a flow of child support payments. Never-married mothers are much less likely to receive either source of income.”
Some experts see the recent trend of unmarried mothers as a positive change. These moms are no longer outcasts who are forced to have abortions or to give up their babies for adoption. The acceptability of the trend, they say, allows women to raise children in a non-traditional family of their own creation. But, Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy perceives it differently. “I look at this and say, maybe this trend is what young adults want or stumble into, but it’s not in the best interest of the children.”
Many – if not most – outside-of-marriage moms cannot see that there are already enough of us, and that their choices are based on a selfish desire to have their own offspring or a reckless disregard for the precautions necessary for preventing unexpected pregnancies. They thereby perpetuate their own DNA, regardless of the likely outcomes. Shouldn’t their decisions regarding procreation at least be in the best interests of the prospective children they bring into this world? We think so.
So what shall we do about it? The answer is education and universal healthcare, whatever form the healthcare system takes. While this problem affects American society, politicians rage against Planned Parenthood, health insurance that covers contraception, and, in some instances, family planning in general. We fail to see how this advances the beliefs of anyone who is concerned with child welfare.
We’d be interested to read your weigh-ins.