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FEBRUARY 19, 2012, 8:35 AM

For Younger Mothers, Out-of-Wedlock Births Are the New


Normal
By KJ DELL'ANTONIA

As of 2009, more than half of all children born to women under 30 were born
to unmarried women.
Unmarried mothers, in some areas, have become the norm, no longer
stigmatized by society. Regular readers of this blog will know that while births
among teenagers are down in recent years, the majority of commenters here,
at least, would support, not shun, a teenager of their acquaintance with a baby.
That tolerance clearly extends to all unmarried mothers. Many of us pride
ourselves on the modernity of this relatively new way of thinking - who would
insist that only a family mirroring some 50's-sitcom image of "nuclear" can
raise a happy, healthy child?
But is our pride misplaced? Fifty-three percent of all children born to women
under 30 is an awful lot of children born outside of what's been considered, for
more than a handful of years, the most stable family structure.
The Times reporters Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise spoke to dozens of
people in Lorain, Ohio, a blue-collar town west of Cleveland where the decline
of the married two-parent family has been especially steep, with 63 percent of
births to women under 30 occurring outside of marriage. The young parents of
Lorain said their reliance on the government safety net encouraged them to
stay single and that they didn't trust their youthful peers to be reliable
partners. Many said they would like to be married - just not right now, and not
to each other.
What's most troubling about these figures is that marriage is good for
children.
"Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face
elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional
and behavioral problems," write Mr. DeParle and Ms. Tavernise. Most births
outside of a marriage are to couples who are living together, but marriages last
longer than alternative arrangements. Tax-saving economists Betsey

Stevenson and Justin Wolfers may be the exception, but statistically, cohabitation arrangements in the United States are more than twice as likely to
dissolve than marriages.
"Marriage," says Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of
Pennsylvania, "has become a luxury good."
Overwhelmingly, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry
before having children. Bearing children outside of wedlock is a trend that's
most strongly affecting young adults who are already at an economic
disadvantage, and that means that its impact is deeply tangled within a host of
other problems, from the decline in blue-collar jobs to the difficulty of finding
affordable child care.
The further we go in this direction, the more single parents (mostly mothers,
but not all) will find themselves and their children living without the stability
and security that helps build a happy family life. It's hard not to think of this
as a problem. But can we condemn the societal result without condemning
either the parents or children it describes?
Can we find a way to support marriage at all levels of society without
recreating the stigma for unmarried mothers and their children, and should
we? Statistically, married parents are better for children in many ways. But is
it the marriage, or the greater stability that often correlates with marriage, that
makes the difference, and which should we be trying to affect? How concerned
should we be about this 53 percent?

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