USA Today - Unwed Families (external - login to view)
Posted 10/31/2005 7:57 PM Updated 10/31/2005 8:34 PM
Feds: 1.5 million babies born to unwed moms in '04
By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
The old rhyme about love and marriage leading to the baby carriage isn't so true anymore. Now, the baby often precedes the marriage, the marriage might not happen, or it may be a short-lived union all of which spells trouble for children, experts say.
New federal data showing a record high number of babies 1.5 million born last year to unwed mothers, with more of them in their 20s, has sparked concern about what the trend means for child well-being.
"It's really unfair to children," says David Popenoe, sociologist and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. "It means more children are going to grow up without mothers and fathers."
Data from the National Center for Health Statistics found the unwed moms were more likely to be twentysomethings than teenagers: 55% of births for those ages 20-24 were to unwed mothers; almost 28% for ages 25-29. In just two years 2002 to 2004 births to unwed mothers ages 25-29 jumped more than 14%, and 7% over the same period for the younger twentysomething mothers. Teens accounted for 50% of unwed births in 1970 but only 24% in 2004.
An extensive review of marriage research released in September by the Brookings Institution and Princeton found that children fare best when raised by their married, biological parents. Still, more couples are cohabiting, which tends to be less stable for children. And for those who tie the knot, a new book about long-lasting effects of divorce written by a child of divorce suggests that an unhappy marriage without a lot of fighting is better than divorce, at least for the kids.
"Any kind of divorce sows lasting inner conflict in children's lives," says Elizabeth Marquardt, the Chicago-based author of Between Two Worlds, a book based on a nationally representative sample of 1,500 adults, half of whom had divorced parents.
Unwed celebrities may have popularized the single-mom baby boom, but experts say unwed mothers are more likely to be economically disadvantaged.
Young adults having children without being married isn't surprising to Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, who says federal data found that almost two-thirds of girls ages 15-19 agree it's OK for an unwed woman to have a child.
"Young adults are acting on their attitudes," she says. "They are doing what they think is OK."
It's a bad signal for children, says Kristin Moore, a senior scholar at Child Trends, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan research group.
"For children born into these relationships, the couple seems to have a positive relationship and a desire to marry, but as they are followed over time, not too many of these marriages happen," she says.