Marriage 'isn't a priority' for parents

Unwed motherhood is way up, primarily because women in their 20s and 30s don’t see marriage as essential or because single women nearing 40 prefer a sperm donor to a marriage of convenience. Nearly four of 10 babies are born out of wedlock, up from one third in 2002 and double the 1980 rate.

“It’s been a huge increase — a dramatic increase,” said Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, which documented the shift in detail.

. . . “I think this is the tipping point,” said Rosanna Hertz, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wellesley College. “This is becoming increasingly the norm. The old adage that ‘first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage’ just no longer holds true.”

The unwed birth rate is highest for Hispanics at 106 births to per 1,000 unmarried women; the rate is 72 per 1,000 blacks, 32 per 1,000 whites and 26 per 1,000 Asians.

European rates are even higher: 66 percent in Iceland, 55 percent in Sweden, 50 percent in France and 44 percent in Britain.

About 40 percent of unwed mothers live with the baby daddy, at least at first, earlier research shows.

(Heidy) Gonzalez, the mother who lives with her children’s father in Mount Rainier, said marriage has not loomed as a necessity for them. “Time goes by and we think about other stuff — and we think about rent,” she said. This holds true, she said, for most of her friends. “Most of the people I know just live with their baby’s father or boyfriend and don’t get married,” she said.

When the going gets tough, unwed fathers often find it easy to leave the relationship — and the kids. Divorced dads have a much better record of involvement with their kids than never-married dads.

There’s little or no stigma in unwed motherhood. But it remains a bad deal for the mothers and a very bad deal for their children, who are much more likely to grow up in poverty and without a father’s love and care.

In New Carrollton, Natrice McKenzie, 25, a teller supervisor at a bank, said she did not set out to become a single mother but has no regrets.

“Getting married was something I had in mind, but that basically was not what happened,” said McKenzie, pregnant with her third child.

Something else didn’t happen either: birth control. I can understand one unplanned pregnancy. But three by the age of 25?

About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I was just speaking the other night with some of my teacher-friends who are involved in elementary/secondary education. Unlike college teaching, this mandates all sorts of interaction with “parents.”

    Except that they (my friends) don’t know what to say anymore: you can’t really say “get this signed by your parents” because, seemingly just as often as not, there aren’t any parents. There’s an aunt, or a grandparent, or foster parents. One of my friends has taken to using the term “units”, while another mused that maybe we should just wholesale replace parents with “guardians” the way we’re going to have to eventually replace husband and wife with “spouse”.

    Language shapes our lives, but it works the other way around, too.

  2. Are some people also choosing to wait on marriage just because it costs so much to do it “right” (i.e., expensively)? A marriage at the courthouse is just as binding as the $40,000 catered affair one sees in movies and bridal magazines. If a couple can’t commit to enough stability to legally tie themselves together (at least for a while), what business do they have bringing children into the world? In general, children of single parents are much worse off than children born into marriages. This isn’t prejudice on my part (I said “in general”, and I know there are exceptions); check the statistics.
    Birth control is very easy to come by now in the USA, so I have to assume it’s a conscious “mistake” when most women get pregnant outside of marriage. Whether you believe in traditional morality or evolutionary imperatives, it is selfish and/or foolish intentionally to have a child without a father around that will help provide and raise the child.
    So what is the solution? Most likely, a return to traditional morality and stigma for unwed mothers. Is that going to happen? No, of course not! Maybe sterilizing chemicals in the water so that people can only get pregnant when they’re really, really intent on it. Hmmm, I can’t see that happening either. Is there a solution? I don’t see one on the horizon. (Well, we could decrease expectations for fancy weddings so that divorce costs more than a wedding, but that’s my own little peeve of materialistic excess.)

  3. I remember when easy no-fault divorce first became generally available, in the 70s, and my husband and I both felt that it should not be an option when there are children. Certainly, if there is real abuse or addiction, divorce is the best of a bad situation, but it has become far too easy to walk away from obligations. Of course, I remember when divorce had a stigma almost as serious as illegitimacy. At that time, there was no government support; it was up to the families, and there was a lot less of it. Guys knew that they would have to marry the mother of their baby, girls assessed guys’ ability to support a family and girls knew that getting involved with a married man led nowhere because he wouldn’t leave his family. There were exceptions, of cours, but it worked a lot better than what we have now. Like a lot of other bad ideas, both the no-fault divorce and the epidemic of illegitimacy goes back to the irresponsible, if-it-feels-good-do-it 60s mentality. As someone posted above; girls were raised with the saying: why buy the cow if you get the milk for free?

    Refer to the postings on this site about disruptive kids in schools; we’re about to get lots more of them. It’s no secret that single parenthood causes big problems and between the divorce rate and the illegitimacy rate, we have big problems. At bottom, far, far too many people are making very selfish choices and the kids pay for them. Of course, everything is worse if the mom can’t support her kids. Charles Murray has some new work out which shows that the illegitimacy rate for non-Hispanic whites is the highest, and rising the fastest, at the bottom of the education/income spectrum. We’ve been seeing the same thing for a long time in the black and Hispanic communities.

  4. Bill Leonard says:

    Not only is there no longer any stigma about unwed motherhood, but I believe it is now at least tacitly encouraged by the establishment of unwed parenting classes, special classes for unwed mothers, and the like.

    At my old high school, there is no longer a school newspaper or a yearbook, and the district is talking about eliminating high school sports because such can no longer be afforded. But there are lots of classes geared to the needs of unwed mothers.

    Since there is no longer any stigma about being on general assistance welfare (that’s the direct dole, or relief, as it once was known) far more people are receving it. And a great number of them are the self-same unwed mothers who continue the cycle, while those of us who are rather more productive members of society get to pay for it.

  5. Wonderful post. Ann Coulter got eviscerated on Dr. Phil for saying the same thing. I’m going to link to this.

  6. SuperSub says:

    Until our society rejects the conceptual lack of morals that propogated in the 60’s this will continue.

    The problem with relying upon traditional birth control is that it relies upon one characteristic that is lacking in the population that has the highest risk of unexpected pregnancy – discipline. I don’t care how easy you make it, as long as girls need to actually think about taking birth control routinely, it will fail to stop unwanted pregnancy.

    Although, I do have a solution. It seems, at least amongst teenage mothers, that there is a correlation between marijuana use and teenage pregnacy. If only there was a way to genetically engineer marijuana that would act as birth control, I’d say we could have this whole problem cleaned up in two generations.

  7. Parent2 says:

    Charles Murray has a blog post up about this. He points out that illegitimacy rates differ by SES.

    “How do the classes break down now? As it happens, I’ve spent the last few weeks exploring that question. I’m not done, and want to save that discussion for a formal presentation in any case, but here are some tentative estimates: The illegitimacy ratio for the white underclass is probably now in the region of 70 percent. I think that the proportion for the white working class may be above 40 percent. The white middle class is approaching 20 percent—a scarily high figure when you think about all the ways that the middle class has been the spine of the nation.

    The white overclass? They’re still living in the 1950s—their ratio is probably about 4 or 5 percent tops.”

  8. Parent2 says:

    The post is available at .

  9. 50% of all unplanned pregnancies are the result of contraceptive failure so birth control is not the solution to preventing unwed motherhood.

    Four of my relatives had babies conceived out of wedlock because of contraceptive failure. However, all 4 did marry their boyfriend/girlfriend and only 1 of these “shotgun weddings” ended in divorce. That was the shakiest relationship pre-baby so it wasn’t a big surprise that it did not last.

    One big thing that IMHO the government needs to do is to revise the tax code and eligibility for assistance programs so that they encourage rather than discourage marriage.

  10. I just don’t understand the whole “marriage or rent” comment. Go down to the court house and get hitched.

    But the woman who said it is 21 with a 5 year old, another kid and the boyfriend. She’s not a lawyer with a sperm donor, she’s a chump. He’ll be gone, and she and the kids will go on welfare.

  11. A few thoughts – abortion is less acceptable among the white lower class which might explain why they have more out-of-wedlock births.

    Scampering off the the courthouse for a quick wedding in some cultures would be worse than just living with your partner.

    If all men knew that married or not they would be responsible for paying a child support fee to the state irrespective of whether or not their partner was able to support the kid, maybe they would learn to keep it zipped. Men are allowed to walk away from their responsibilities too easily and that’s most of the problem here in my opinion.

  12. This goes back to the “impulsiveness problem” article mentioned a few posts later. It all ties together!

    What scares me as a young guy are the number of young women who are willing to sabotage their birth control efforts (or the guys’! pins stuck through condoms, etc.) in order to get pregnant because she wants a baby and to ‘make him stay with her forever’…

    And as for the guys who can’t control themselves, I’m surprised that in this day and age, when you can order DVDs off the Internet to any, uh, ‘specification’ you wish, that a lot of young guys wouldn’t have an ‘outlet’ for their tensions until they’re ready to get serious with a woman…

  13. The idea that the reproductive impulses can’t be controlled is a pretty recent one; throughout history, many men were in situations where there weren’t many women; large chunks of the settlement of this country, military or civil service abroad, voyages of exploration etc.

    Also, women used to demand – and get – far more from guys than many of them do today. What is going on today is plain irresponsible, financially enabled (taxes) by the responsible. Turn off the support.

    Yes, back in the 50s and early 60s, some unmarried girls did get pregnant, but it was typically during an engagement or a serious long-term relationship. The intended outcome of the relationship was marriage, even if the date was put forward. Even on college campuses in the late 60s, most guys were lucky to get a kiss at the end of a date. Sex didn’t come into the picture until a real relationship existed, usually including meeting parents etc.

  14. BadaBing says:

    Men need women to civilize them, but thanks to feminism, many of today’s women have become more and more like men. That’s how feminists believe women achieve equality, by becoming like men. So what you end up with are lots of young promiscuous women to satisfy the needs of lots of young promiscuous men. Yes, men tend to be promiscuous, and they don’t attach emotions to “getting laid.” However, women cannot detach their emotions from the sex act, even if their lesbian women’s studies professor says they can. Therefore, men get the milk without having to buy the cow, and stupid young women that put out get dumped, get angry and eventually end up hating men. So men don’t need to get married to have sex, and women think all guys are creeps and become single moms. And the children are the ones that suffer most.

  15. Tracy W says:

    Momof4 – you know what was likely going on during those all-male times and places don’t you? The Fatal Shore, about convicts in Australia, covers that. There may have been no women around, but most of the men weren’t practising celibacy.

    And your story about the 1950s and 60s doesn’t match with my Gran’s stories, and my parents’ stories. My Gran lived in a farm on the country and got a number of wayward daughters from various friends and relatives sent to her to wait out the 6 months until the baby was born and put up for adoption, and has plenty of stories about the reverse – women disappearing for 6 months. Or the mother of the girl who got in trouble pretended a pregnancy herself and the baby was raised as the younger sibling of their true mother.

  16. “Men need women to civilize them”? Really? Maybe THAT’S why “women think all guys are creeps.”

  17. BadaBing says:

    Maybe the women aren’t doing their job.

  18. Tracy W says:

    So what you end up with are lots of young promiscuous women to satisfy the needs of lots of young promiscuous men.

    Honey, there’s a reason that prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession. It’s been that way long before feminism.
    There’s also been a long history of men seducing women and dumping them ages before feminism. See Casanova’s life history for example. To quote Shakespeare:

    Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever, One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never

  19. Andy Freeman says:

    > If all men knew that married or not they would be responsible for paying a child support fee to the state irrespective of whether or not their partner was able to support the kid, maybe they would learn to keep it zipped. Men are allowed to walk away from their responsibilities too easily and that’s most of the problem here in my opinion.

    On the other hand, viewing men as checkbooks with feet seems to have consequences.

    See (including the comments).

  20. Until our society rejects the conceptual lack of morals that propogated in the 60’s this will continue.

    don’t hold your breath on that one – that went away when the single mom baby shower subindustry kicked in.

  21. Ragnarok says:

    “”If all men knew that married or not they would be responsible for paying a child support fee to the state irrespective of whether or not their partner was able to support the kid, maybe they would learn to keep it zipped. Men are allowed to walk away from their responsibilities too easily and that’s most of the problem here in my opinion.”

    What absolute feminist claptrap! And this in the land of no-fault divorce!