by Dylan Scott
40 Percent of All US Childbirths Occur to Single Mothers, 700 Percent Higher than in 1960
A recent report from the Social Capital Project reveals that the American family is disintegrating, fast. Fully 40 percent of mothers are currently unmarried.
This is bad news, because good families depend on good marriages. Marriage is the moral glue that binds them. It’s the stabilizing agent. There’s a reason that children from married couples do better in school, and are less likely to end up in jail as compared to children of unmarried mothers, known as “fragile families.”
Lavar Young, civil rights activist, thinks marriage is a powerful tool for fighting against racial inequality. He outlines some of the problems children born out of wedlock face:
Fragile families are shown to have harsher parenting practices and fewer literacy activities, and children of such families produce lower cognitive test scores and a have a higher incidence of aggressive behavior.
Children are not the only ones who suffer, according to Mr. Young:
…compared with “traditional families,” parents of fragile families are more likely to have become parents in their teens, more likely to have had children with other partners, more likely to be poor, suffer from depression, struggle with substance abuse, and to have been incarcerated.
When it comes to raising successful children, the importance of married parents cannot be overstated. On balance, married parents set better examples, and foster more stable relationships and environments that better prepare children for adult life. This is eloquently put by the authors at the Social Capital Project:
Of all the social relationships that shape people throughout our lives, none is so formative and consequential as the one children have with their parents. For most of us, it is primarily the nuclear family that socializes us into the adult world, develops in us secure attachment and emotional maturation, and transfers to us the values and skills that shape the rest of our lives. No source of social capital matters more—whether for individuals or for society as a whole.
Sadly, the nuclear family has been in decline for some time—and we’re already experiencing the dire consequences as a society.
The Social Capital Project, spearheaded by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), decided to investigate why single motherhood has become more common in the last two generations. Since 1960, America’s single motherhood rate has risen from 5 percent to 40 percent in absolute terms—a 700 percent increase in under 60 years.
This is partly due to the increasing acceptance in out-of-wedlock births. But, as the authors point out, this rise has a few more concrete explanations, such as: increased unwed promiscuity, fewer “shotgun marriages” to pregnant single women, and increasing delayed marriage/rising divorce.
The authors conclude that the common explanation of economic problems is not the primary driver of this phenomenon:
Social phenomena are complicated and have multiple causes, but our read of the evidence—and we are by no means alone—is that negative economic trends explain little of the overall rise in unwed childbearing. Instead, we think it is more likely that, as with other worsening aspects of our associational life, rising family instability primarily reflects societal affluence, which reduced marriage and marital childbearing, increased divorce and nonmarital sexual activity and pregnancy, and reduced shotgun marriage.
This report adds to the wealth of data showing that traditional American families have been on the decline.
Senator Lee himself is a social conservative and a long-time advocate for the traditional family. His response to this report is optimistic, but acknowledges that more data is needed to understand the problem:
The structure of American families has changed over the past generation and it is important that policy makers study the factors that are contributing to this trend. I hope this paper contributes to that debate.
In any event, these data are disturbing: the decline of marriage, and the rise of single motherhood imperils American society because of its destabilizing effect. It’s time we took this problem seriously.