SBC Life Articles

Illegitimacy on the Rise, Culture in Decline

The Washington Times reports that in 1999 more babies were born out of wedlock in the United States than in any other year on record. That translates to a full one-third of all U.S. births (1.3 million) coming to unwed mothers, boosting the birthrate for single women ages 15 to 44 to more than forty-four births per 1,000 women.

Analysts attribute the increase to demographic changes and rising tolerance for couples to have children without marrying. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, one reason unwed births have hit a new high is that the number of single women who are of childbearing age has also grown. An increased population of single women, however, is not the sole cause of the rise in unwed births, says Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector. Rector cites a lack of national and political willpower to tackle illegitimacy as a root of the problem.

Rector cited the failure of 1996 welfare reform legislation aimed at curbing the number of unwed mothers. "The greatest failure of welfare reform is that the governors have grievously neglected the issue of marriage," said Rector. He added that only four governors have promoted marriage in any way.

"The sole reason that welfare exists is the collapse of marriage," Rector continued. "It is a huge national tragedy that this country spends $1,000 subsidizing single parenthood for every $1 it spends trying to promote marriage and prevent illegitimacy."

Kristin A. Moore, president of Child Trends Inc., concurs with Rector's diagnosis, adding that America has failed to adequately highlight the problem of non-marital childbearing. Moore points out that often times the public inaccurately equates non-marital childbearing with teen childbearing. "It's true there is not leadership at the state level or in local communities in reducing rates of non-marital childbearing, except among teen-agers," said Moore. "It's also true that we're not sitting on a set of tried and true demonstration projects that would suggest how states and localities might do this."

According to Moore, most unwed mothers are in their twenties, and a program that tries to discourage pregnancies among unmarried adult couples has to be "very different" from one aimed at high school students. Without models to guide local leaders regarding the prevention of unwed childbearing, however, they have been reluctant to intervene.

Yet another reason for the high unwed birthrate is the rise in cohabitation, adds Jennifer Manlove, a senior researcher at Child Trends. "Fertility trends have been fairly consistent over time, but what is changing is marriage," she said. Couples are delaying marriage, but not delaying childbearing.

The Washington Times National Weekly Edition, April 23-29, 2001



Without Fathers …

• Children living with a single mother are six times more likely to live in poverty than those who grow up with both their parents.

• In 1997, 10 percent of children in intact families lived in poverty; 49 percent of children who had only a mother to rely on lived in poverty.

• Children of single moms, along with those from broken homes, are more likely to: 1) Repeat a grade or be expelled from school; 2) Be treated for emotional or behavioral problems.

• Adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents during some period of childhood are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age 20, and one-and-a-half times as likely to be "idle" – out of school and out of work – in their late teens and early twenties.

• A study of more than 12,000 young people between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one found that those who lived in one-parent families had more behavioral problems and lower mathematical and reading ability than children raised in two-parent families.

• Boys raised outside of an intact nuclear family are more than twice as likely as other boys to end up in prison, even controlling for a range of social and economic factors.

• Female-headed households or father absence is a strong predictor for suicide among young adult and adolescent boys.

• Children who grew up in a single-parent home are twice as likely to get divorced than children who grew up in a two-parent biological family.

• A UCLA study of youths between the ages of twelve and seventeen showed that the adolescents in single-parent and step-families were more likely to have had sexual intercourse at an earlier age than children who lived with both biological parents.

• A University of Texas study found that teen-agers from single-parent homes were more likely to engage in delinquent behavior and use illicit drugs or alcohol compared to teens from intact homes.

• Children in two-parent families are more likely to have at least one parent who works full-time all year round. In 1997, 88 percent of children living in two-parent families had at least one parent who worked full-time year-round, while 70 percent of children living with a single father and only 41 percent of children in families headed by a single mother had a parent who worked full time all year.

"Single Parenthood: Life Without Father," by Susan Orr, The Family Research Council, February 2001.

    About the Author

  • SBC Staff