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Report shows more unwed births in America comment (1)

April 4, 2013

First comes baby, then comes marriage? That is the new norm for many middle-class young Americans — and they and their children are paying a price, says a new report.

With 48 percent of first births now outside of marriage, “today’s unmarried twentysomething moms are the new teen mothers,” says the report, released by the National Marriage Project, the Relate Institute and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The report says reviving cultural support for earlier marriage may be part of the solution, but some experts question that approach.

The National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia, has been sounding alarms about the growing disconnect between marriage and parenthood for a while. But the report is the first to make clear that a “tipping point” has been reached for many Americans in the middle class — those who have at least a high school education but no college degree, said Bradford Wilcox, the sociologist who directs the project.

Among young women with high school diplomas, 58 percent of first births are now outside marriage, the report says. For high-school dropouts it is 83 percent; for college-educated women it is 12 percent. The report notes that 54 percent of young women are high school graduates; 37 percent are college graduates.

In Alabama, there were 59,322 live births in 2011 — 24,946 births were to unwed women, according to vital statistics published by the Alabama Department of Public Health. Of those births to unwed women, 58.6 percent were to women ages 20–24 and 31.4 percent to women ages 25–29, according to numbers from the Center for Health Statistics.

Overall, the median marriage age is now 27 for women, 29 for men. But the median age at which a woman has her first baby is 26, the report released by the National Marriage Project, the Relate Institute and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says.

Young people delay marriage to finish their educations, launch their careers and try to achieve economic security. Marriage is “something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row,” according to the report. In general, the delay works out well for college-educated young people who also delay having children, it adds. The benefits of delayed marriage can include higher incomes for women and lower divorce rates, it notes. But there also are costs, Wilcox said. 

For children, the cost of having unmarried parents can be instability. According to the report: 39 percent of young unmarried parents who start out living together break up before their child is 5 years old; just 13 percent of married parents split so soon. Such upheaval hurts children, many studies have found.

The report suggests several remedies, including economic and education policy shifts that will make financial stability attainable for more young people. But it also says some who might otherwise marry are now being discouraged by parents, friends and popular culture.

“The broader culture should respect the choice of twentysomethings to marry, especially those who have reached their mid-twenties, provided that they are in a good relationship,” the report says.

But marriage “may not be such a good deal” for less-educated couples, said Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. “We do know that people with lower levels of education who get married are more likely to get divorced.”

Brown, who did some of the research cited in the report but did not help write it, added that “one of the biggest predictors of divorce is financial instability.” So, she said, young people putting off marriage for financial reasons may have good reason.

“The ones who are not marrying are the ones who don’t have the job prospects, don’t have the economic stability,” said Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families. She was not involved in the report. They also may have other problems unrelated to marriage that help explain why unmarried young people are generally less satisfied with life, she said.

But young people who are careful about marriage may not be as careful about having babies, she said. 

Report co-author Kelleen Kaye, senior director of research at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said her group is working on efforts to help single women in their 20s delay having children. Right now, 69 percent of pregnancies in that group are unplanned, she said. One program, she said, reaches out to community college students.

“Our message isn’t that all twentysomethings should run out and get married,” she said. “We are saying just think about the most successful way to launch your family.”

The Relate Institute, the third sponsor of the report, is part of the Marriage Study Consortium, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.



Alabama statistics

59,322 live births in 2011 

24,946 births were to unwed women

(Source: Alabama Department of Public Health)

Of the 24,946 births to unwed women, 58.6 percent were to women ages 20–24 and 31.4 percent to women ages 25–29

(Source: Center for Health Statistics)

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Comment (1)

    John Morgan 5/27/2013 9:56 PM

    So unwed births are up. Wow. That's shocking news that will certainly make headlines. The problem is not unwed births. It's not lack of college education. It's not financial instability. It's not median age at marriage. It's not job prospects. The problem, Alabama Baptist, is a culture that supports premarital sex and bows down to the idol of marriage and family. The root problem is a little bit more . . . uncomfortable, isn't it? That's what my 52 years of research as a college educated Christian single has shown me. As long as there is silence on the issue, things will only get worse.

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