First, the good news
The teen birth rate in the United States fell two percent between 2007 and 2008, after rising for the two years prior. The birth rate for the year 2007, however, was an all-time high. This report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics gives us the most recent birth rate information.
Now, the bad news
After many years of hovering around 39 percent, the U.S. overall rate of unwed child bearing crossed over the 40 percent mark to 40.6 percent. Certainly not a birth announcement we want to celebrate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes: “the number and percent of births to unmarried women each increased to historic levels.” We wonder about the term “historic levels” when we consider that over the last decade in the U.S. the rate of Hispanic unwed child bearing has been around the 50 percent mark and in the African American community the rate has been close to 70 percent.
How do these percentages look around the world?
The incidence of non-marital births is on the rise around the world, particularly in the developed nations. But even more disconcerting is the phenomenal rise since 1970. Here are a few examples:
Percentage of Birth Out of Wedlock
Greece 2% 5%
Italy 3% 21%
Ireland 3% 34%
United States 8% 39.8%
France 7% 51%
Norway 7% 55%
Sweden 19% 55%
Iceland 30% 66%
As social scientists scramble to explain these skyrocketing rates, we suspect that our readers already know the answer: 1) increased sexual activity outside of marriage, 2) the relaxing of social disapproval of out-of-wedlock childbearing, and 3) an increase in the number of women who are delaying or forgoing marriage.
Why does it matter?
So what’s the big deal; why does it matter? So called “progressives” would tell us that children do just fine without their mother and father in a stable married relationship. The libertarian argument is “just let people do what they want, government should not get involved.”
We would like to remind you to peruse a report issued by the Institute for American Values back in 2008 where they and other academic entities studying out-of-wedlock child bearing have concluded that the low level estimate of the cost of, unwed child bearing, divorce and family fragmentation in the U.S. is $112 billion a year (2008) and rising. One can only wonder what that number would look like if it could be calculated for all the countries of the world and then combined.
Research suggest that many of the social problems and disadvantages addressed by federal and state government programs occur more frequently among children born to and/or raised by single parents than among children whose parents get and stay married.
The potential risks to children raised in fragmented families that have been identified in the literature include poverty, mental illness, physical illness, infant mortality, lower educational attainment (including greater risk of dropping out of high school), juvenile delinquency, conduct disorders, adult criminality, and early unwed parenthood. In addition, family fragmentation seems to have negative consequences for adults as well, including lower labor supply, physical and mental illness, and a higher likelihood of committing or falling victim to crime.
To the extent that family fragmentation causes negative outcomes for children and adults, it also leads to higher costs to taxpayers through higher spending on antipoverty programs and throughout the justice and educational systems, as well as losses to government coffers in foregone tax revenues. (Institute for American Values)
This veritable explosion of unwed child bearing around the world has created a new family form””the mother-state-child family. The father is absent so the government presumes to step in and in effect become the father. And the government makes a pretty poor father and husband. The research showing the negative impact of unwed childbearing and broken or unformed families on children is staggering. A welfare state, no matter how wealthy and well meaning, can never compensate for the loss of a married mother and father. How long can this level of unwed child bearing continue before this unsustainable system collapses and the government coffers are empty?
Recently United Families International had the privilege of having a college intern work with us for a few months. Josh spent many months looking at and contemplating the research on family breakdown. In one of Josh’s final conversations before returning to school, he made this statement:
“I always knew the family was important; I’ve been taught that since I was a child. But I had no idea that there was so much research and evidence supporting the importance of family to society. And, I had no idea of the destruction to children and society that follows when individuals and society walk away from marriage and building stable families. When we walk away from the norm of married mothers and fathers we are literally walking away from the future. Societal collapse cannot be far behind.”
Josh, we couldn’t agree more.