Who Needs Marriage? Children do
A few weeks back in a blog post titled "Teenage Wasteland" I discussed teen pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births and the many socioeconomic problems associated with children raised by single moms in the absence of their biological father. An article from The New York Times, "How did marriage become a mark of privilege?" printed by The Buffalo News on September 26th provided facts, figures and quotations that reinforced that blog post as well as a critical passage in my book The Lost Son: A Rock 'n' Roll Road to Redemption. So for anybody that actually gives a damn about this topic, which I think is a crucial socioeconomic and public health problem affecting the United States, and by the way coming the same week as the death of Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, whose entire life was dedicated to promoting sexual liberation that I believe has played a major factor in the current cultural values and acceptance of sex outside of marriage leading to the massive increase in out-of-wedlock births in this country, please read on.
- In 1970 about 82% of adults were married
- In 1990 about 67% were married, with little difference based on class or education
- Currently 56% of middle and upper-middle class adults are married
- 39% of working-class adults (defined as 20th to 50th percentile in earnings) are married
- 26% of poor adults (below the 20th percentile of national earnings) are married.
"A big reason for the decline: unemployed men are less likely to be seen as marriage material...Many working-class women aren't interested in taking responsibility for a man without a job."
And yet, despite the significant decline in marriage rates among all classes of people, but particularly in the poor and working-class, childbearing has not declined. Indeed, as I stated in my book, for the past several years over 40% of all children in the U.S. have been born out-of-wedlock, with over 70% of African-American children and over 50% of Hispanic children born out-of-wedlock.
There is no question that education plays a major factor in both the out-of-wedlock birth rates and the difficulty of escaping this generational cycle and becoming more successful economically. According to Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University: "The sharpest distinction in American family life is between people with a bachelor's (degree) or not." This distinction plays a dual factor in the interaction between out-of-wedlock births and economic success.
First, those that put off having children, either by abstaining from sex or by being very careful through strict use of birth control, graduate from high school, attend college and earn a college degree at higher rates than those who have children prior to attaining a college degree. Those who don't have a college degree tend to work in lower-paying and less upwardly-mobile jobs. Meanwhile "less educated people are more likely to move in with boyfriends or girlfriends in a matter of months, and to get pregnant at a younger age and before marriage." Furthermore, "American couples who live together but don't marry are generally less likely to stay committed." Thus, leading to ever more children being raised in single parent (usually mothers) households.
Second, these children raised in the absence of their biological fathers, often lack stability and positive male role models, which can have a significant effect on their emotional and mental maturity and behavior. Children who grow up without their father present and active in their lives are at increased risk of dropping out of high-school, not attending college, living in poverty, engaging in crime, becoming incarcerated, and falling victim to drug and alcohol addiction. All of which leads to the continuation of the cycle to the next generation of children, especially males, who are deemed not "marriage material" because they are not educated enough to have a good job and provide for a family, and yet women continue to have sex with and churn out babies with these men, perpetuating this chain of socioeconomic and public health problems.
The answer is for both men and women to delay childbearing until their education, whether that is a college degree or some type of vocational training, is complete so that they are in a better position to financially support a family. I know that is much easier said than done, but unless it happens, this problem is only going to continue to get worse to the detriment of the American economy and society.