Why are so many children born out of wedlock?
41% of children are born to unmarried mothers, up from less than 5% in the 1940s. (Source: CDC. ) And this is a trend that shows no signs of improving. Unless we do something to turn the tide, one can expect this rate to pass 50% in the relatively near future.
Some commenters will blame this troubling trend on women being slutty so men don’t need to get married in order to have sex, or on there no longer being a stigma attached to being an unmarried mother. But neither of these explanations really explain anything. What caused women to become slutty and what caused the stigma to decline? It’s a chicken and egg type of situation.
Women have a biological urge to have sex and babies, so if for some reason, factors having nothing to do with women being slutty causes the marriage rate to decline, then it’s expected that women will have sex and babies outside of marriage. Thus it’s impossible to say if slutty women cause bastard children, or if women became slutty because marriage is no longer a realistic or expected option for so many women.
In trying to think about the root causes, I came up with the following:
- Economic reasons: (a) increasing income for women; (b) declining income for men; (c) welfare.
- Bobo nonjudgmentalism
- The Christian Right’s anti-abortion crusade.
The first set of reasons are all related to the fact that women no longer find it economically necessary to get married. It was traditionally thought that a male income was necessary to support a family. But ss a consequence of the woman’s liberation movement, income for white women age 25 to 34 has been rising and peaked in 2007 just before the recession. It may exceed the 2007 level sometime in the near future. Such is not the case for white males aged 25-34. Their median income peaked back in 1973 and has declined since then. Declining income for men plus rising income for women means that men are no longer financially necessary. And on top of that, we have the welfare state which provides better economic benefits to single mothers than a man with a low-wage job.
At the same time, housing prices have also risen. As you can see from this chart of the Case-Shiller home price index, home prices bottomed out in the period between the end of World War I and the end of World War II. Since then prices have been rising. Perhaps they haven’t risen quite as much as you might think after you adjust for inflation and ignore the huge uptick and downtick that happened in the 2000s, but the index is still about 17 points higher (136.8 vs. approximately 120) than it was in the early 1970s. A 14% increase in home prices combined with declining income for young men means that fewer young men can afford to provide a place to live for a wife and children. It is hardly surprising that the percent of young men still living at home has been increasing.
I used to wonder why single women find men who live with their parents to be so disgusting, but I see now that in our culture, a man having his own place demonstrates the readiness [economically and psychologically] to raise a family. But this seems to happen at a subconscious level because women would never explain it that way if asked.
I owe this insight to Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart. Murray is right, a key bobo value is nonjudgmentalism towards the lower classes. In the past, the upper classes would look down on the lower classes for their transgressions against proper morality. But today this is no longer considered acceptable. One is not allowed to shame women for being “sluts” or call kids bastards if they are born to an unmarried woman.
The philosophy of nonjudgmentalism has sadly infested the Republican Party as strongly as it has the Democratic Party. Remember the 2008 election when Sarah Palin marched around her unmarried pregnant teenage daughter? Instead of being disgusted by the Palin family’s poor morals, she was praised as being able to understand the problems of regular Americans. And this is a great segue to the next topic:
The Christian Right’s anti-abortion crusade
This blog seems to attract a lot of conservative-Christian types, and they seem to be blind to the damage being caused by the Christian Right’s anti-abortion crusade.
For starters, anyone with common sense, and no preconceived notion about abortion being a great evil equivalent to murder or racism, would assume that abortion would decrease the number of children born to unmarried women because it gives women a valuable tool to prevent an accidental pregnancy from turning into a bastard child.
Only fundamentalist Christian types would try to argue the opposite, that abortion causes more bastard children because it causes more women to have sex and then the women who get accidentally preganant who wouldn’t have had sex in the first place in the absence of legal abortion don’t bother to actually get an abortion. The problem with this argument is that it just doesn’t hold up. There has been a very significant drop in the birth rate since the time before abortion was legal, and the birth rate continues to fall. See for example this Economist article. Furthermore, the birthrate has dropped most among teenage women. To quote an article from Time Magazine published less than a month ago:
Teen birth rates in the U.S., which have been declining for two decades, have reached a record low, with significant drops in almost every state.
The report, from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that teen birth rates fell at least 15% in all states with the exception of West Virginia and North Dakota during the years 2007 to 2011.
. . .
Teenagers have a greater number of methods of contraceptives to choose from,” says Bill Albert, the chief program officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “The menu of contraceptive methods has never been longer.”
It’s a validation for public health programs that have advocated safe sex messages and sex education in schools; critics of that strategy raised concerns that such efforts would only promote more sexual activity among adolescents and drive up teen pregnancy rates.
So we see, the problem isn’t that women are having more babies than ever. They are having fewer babies than ever, thanks to contraception and abortion, but they choose to have them outside of marriage because marriage is no longer economically necessary and there is no longer any stigma to being an unmarried mother.
But even more pernicious than the Christian Right’s attempt to take away abortion, a valuable tool to prevent births of unwanted babies to unmarried women, the Christian Right is actively encouraging such births as part of their mission against abortion. Thus unmarried women who give birth, instead of being shamed for their behavior, are instead “celebrated” for being “courageous” in not having an abortion. Which takes us back to the 2008 election. Republicans should have been disgusted by Bristol Palin, but instead she was praised for her bold decision to choose life.
The solution: Mayor Bloomberg
As we see, the Republicans, dominated by the Christian Right, are not friends to those who would like to see a reduction in unmarried births. The savior is Mayor Bloomberg, a no-nonsense bobo who has shown his willingness to abandon the bobo principle of nonjudgmentalism in order to force better behavior out of the proles Most notably, as I previously blogged about, Bloomberg was behind New York City’s anti-pregnancy campaign. And on top of that, Bloomberg is a strong supporter of abortion rights.
If Mayor Bloomberg runs for president in 2016, it may the first time I vote for a Democrat, especially if he runs against some moron who believes in Creationism (such as Marco Rubio).
Iceland vs. Japan
It has been pointed out to me that Iceland has the highest percentage of births to unmarried mothers.
Obviously we can’t blame non-white minorities for Iceland’s problem. Iceland is a very white nation.
What does make Iceland different is that it’s considered the “best” country for gender equality:
Iceland remains the country that has the greatest equality between men and women, according to an annual report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
It is the second year in succession that Iceland has topped the foundation’s Global Gender Gap Report.
Nordic nations dominate the top of the list of 134 countries, with Norway in second place and Finland third.
The report measures equity in the areas of politics, education, employment and health.
Not surprisingly, some of the other most-gender-equal nations, Norway and Sweden, also have a very high percentage of births to unmarried women.
In contrast, Japan ranks extremely poorly for gender quality, and has a very very low rate of nonmarital births
The conclusion is clear. When women are equal to men, they have no desire to marry them. (Or possibly men have no desire to marry their equals, but I don’t think that’s the case because men just want women to look hott.)