Unwed birth rate signals the collapse of marriage - 5/7/10
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Fri May 7 13:38:46 EDT 2010
- UNWED BIRTH RATE SIGNALS COLLAPSE OF MARRIAGE
Unwed birth rate signals collapse of marriage
by: JENNIFER A. MARSHALL
May 07, 2010
It's hard to imagine the unemployment rate rising steeply for decades
without public outcry. But that's exactly what's happened in the case of
another significant indicator: the unwed birth rate.
Hardly anyone noticed this month when new data showed 40 percent of all
births are to unmarried mothers. That's way up from 7 percent in the
mid-1960s, when a young White House appointee named Daniel Patrick Moynihan
tried to sound the alarm.
Moynihan, then an assistant Labor secretary in the Johnson administration,
issued a report in 1965 warning that disintegration of the black family in
America threatened Johnson's War on Poverty.
"(D)ollars of income, standards of living, and years of education deceive.
... The fundamental problem is that of family structure. (The black) family
in the urban ghettos is crumbling. So long as this situation persists, the
cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself."
Regrettably, history proved Moynihan the future Democratic senator from
New York to be correct. When the Moynihan Report was released, one out of
four black children was born to an unwed mother. Now, a staggering three out
of four black children are born outside marriage.
That fact will cast a long shadow down the course of a child's life. As one
prominent black author wrote in 2006:
"(C)hildren living with single mothers are five times more likely to be poor
than children in two-parent households. Children in single-parent homes are
also more likely to drop out of school and become teen parents, even when
income is factored out. And the evidence suggests that on average, children
who live with their biological mother and father do better than those who
live in stepfamilies or with cohabiting partners."
About two-thirds of poor children live in single-parent homes. Government
spends $300 billion annually to assist low-income single parents.
But if poor single mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly
two-thirds could escape poverty immediately. About half of unwed mothers are
cohabiting with the father at the time of birth, and three out of four are
in a romantic relationship with the father. Not only are most of these men
employed when the child is born, research shows that more than half earn
enough to be the breadwinner and keep a family out of poverty.
Yet discussions of poverty rarely address the collapse of marriage. Two
generations of children have paid the price for adults ignoring Moynihan's
Avoiding the central problem, many focused on births to teen girls. Indeed,
release of the alarming new data that 40 percent of all children and 72
percent of black children are born outside marriage produced headlines
concentrating on teen births.
However, only about one in seven out-of-wedlock births is to a girl younger
than 18. The typical mother of a child born outside marriage is in her early
20s and without much income or education.
To ignore the collapse of marriage is heartless. For the sake of children,
especially, we should muster all our ingenuity and resources to restore a
culture of marriage in America.
President Barack Obama recognizes the significance of marriage for the
welfare of children. In his 2006 book "The Audacity of Hope."
Obama writes: "Policies that strengthen marriage for those who choose it
and that discourage unintended births outside of marriage are sensible goals
But rather than backing such policies, the president's 2011 budget would
eliminate the one program dedicated to encouraging healthy marriage. In its
place would be a program promoting a notion of "fatherhood" that doesn't
involve the father being married or in the home.
Sadly, Obama's action is yet another way to avoid addressing the collapse of
marriage and its consequences.
The facts speak for themselves. It's time more policy-makers noticed what
the facts are saying.
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil
Society at The Heritage Foundation and author of "Now and Not Yet: Making
Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century."
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