More Children are Born Out of Wedlock

Source: Young Children and Their Complex Families: Facing Some Uncomfortable Facts, Child Trends, 25 March 2013.

Source: Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise, "For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage," New York Times, 17 February 2012.

Source: "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America", 2013

"Today, more children than ever are born outside of marriage, largely due to delays in marriage and increases in cohabitation" [Child Trends]. In 2009 Child Trends estimated that 41% of all children were to unmarried couples. About half of that number (i.e. about 20%) were to people just living together and the other half to people not living together. "It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage" [DeParle].

Reasons given:

  • The social trend is to delay marriages until later in life, but sex isn't delayed. Therefore, more children are born purposely or accidentally outside of marriage. "The age at which men and women marry is now at historic heights—27 for women, and 29 for men—and is still climbing. The age at which women have children is also increasing, but not nearly as quickly as the delay in marriage" [Knot Yet].
  • Marriage is not seen as a necessity. It is viewed as a luxury item that few can afford.
  • Birth control options make it seem that marriage is unnecessary because sex can be available without commitment.
  • The stigma of having sex and children outside of marriage was removed when social program not only made it easier but also removed the stigma against sexual relationships outside of marriage.
  • Easy divorce makes people think that marriage isn't a real commitment, yet they still avoid it. As illogical as it sounds, people avoid marriage because they don't want to suffer a divorce. "Ms. Kidd, 21, said she could not imagine marrying her son’s father, even though she loves him. “I don’t want to wind up like my mom,” she said" [DeParle]. "Many children born outside of marriage –– even to parents who are living together –– will soon see their parents separate" [Child Trends].
  • People are focused on their own pleasure. "“Family life is no longer about playing the social role of father or husband or wife, it’s more about individual satisfaction and self-development,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University" [DeParle].

Results:

  • Children born out of wedlock "are more likely to be poor, do less well in school, and have more behavioral and health problems" [Child Trends].
  • "Children born outside of marriage also tend to experience much more instability in their home lives than do other children" [Child Trends].
  • "Children born to unmarried parents are more likely to see their parents begin and end new relationships that introduce new adults into the household ... These complex family arrangements can add stress to family life and affect how parents’ time and money are spent" [Child Trends].