Marriage Hopes on a Tightrope
Motherhood no longer appears to be what it used to be.
Compared to 20 years ago, today's mothers of newborns are older, more educated, less often white, more often Hispanic -- and less often married.
A record 41 percent of American births in 2008 were born to single mothers, according to a new study of census and other data released by the
Is marriage over? Not quite. But the report did find an increase in unmarried women in their childbearing years over the past two decades, and, judging by the numbers, the idea of marriage as a precursor to parenting in America appears to be suffering setbacks.
That does not bode well for the kids.
Traditional marriage is better for kids emotionally, academically and economically, as President
Although the unmarried-mother share of births increased most sharply for whites and Hispanics, the Pew Study found the highest share among black women. That trend was forecast 45 years ago this past March in "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," a landmark report by a young
He warned that a disintegration of the black family threatened to undermine President
Although Moynihan, who later became a Democratic senator from
In fact, both sides are right. It is hard to promote marriage as a solution to social problems when the decline of marriage is itself the result of many social, economic, historical and personal problems, including poverty, crime, high incarnation rates and a widespread erosion of the belief among too many youths that personal responsibility does any good.
That's why the one silver lining in the report is in its confirmation of a health trend that delights social scientists, even if they are unable to completely explain it: a decline since the early 1990s in teen pregnancy rates in all racial and ethnic groups, even as each group had a higher share of new mothers aged 35 or older.
After disturbing surges in the 1980s, teen birth rates and pregnancy rates are down to their lowest level in 20 years. Experts are not sure why, but two reasons are suggested by other studies: fewer teens are having sex, or more of them are using contraceptives. The reasons vary from widespread fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases to a rise in conservative attitudes toward casual sex.
Reasons for changed attitudes vary. A 2008 study by the
Regardless of the reason, we should take good news wherever we can find it -- and try to encourage more of it. Finding the answers to these encouraging trends among teenagers might lead us to positive cultural changes among older groups, particularly unmarried fathers who, as
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