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August 23, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s a bit of good news (IFS, 8/16/18).  And indeed it is just a “bit.”  But good news is good news, even if there’s not a lot of it.

The rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing is declining.  It’s dropped to under 40% of all births, the first time that’s been the case since about 2004.  It rose steadily from 1960 to about 2008 and has declined until 2015, the last year for which we have full data.  The declining trend is the more remarkable because adults of childbearing age are getting married later than ever and the incidence of cohabitation is greater.  Those two things would tend to militate in favor or greater non-marital childbearing, but instead the rate is coming down.

Needless to say, this is good news that I hope will continue.  Children born to and living with single parents tend strongly to do worse than children living in intact families.  The evidence for that has been developed over decades and is overwhelming.  But at some point in the late 60s and early 70s, we as a society got the bright idea that fathers were expendable, that all children really needed was a single primary caregiver.  Unsurprisingly, that person was all but invariably Mom.

It took us some 40 years to relearn what our parents and grandparents could have told us – kids need both parents.  During that time, much science – both social and biological – has developed to the benefit of all.  We now know that humans are a bi-parental species and have been probably for hundreds of thousands of years.  That means that, in order for our offspring to be properly socialized, they need strong inputs from both their female and male parents.

And of course the social science on the children of intact families, divorced families, never-married families, adoptive families, step-families and single-parent families demonstrates that the children of married parents have the best chance of positive outcomes on a range of measures of well-being, both as kids and as grown-ups. 

It was always wrong to pretend otherwise, but alas, pretend we did.  Now perhaps we’ve learned our lesson.  So far, a few surveys of young adults find a commonly-expressed attitude among them being “We grew up without a father or mother, we didn’t like it and we aim to do better.”

So one cause of the decline in single-mother childbearing may be the experiences of those kids who are now adults.

Another, as the linked-to article points out, is the continued increase in total education received by Americans.  Somewhat weirdly, in every category of educational attainment, “High School diploma or less,” “Some College” and “Bachelor’s Degree or Greater,” there continues to be an increase in rates of non-marital childbearing.  So how can the overall rate be declining?

It’s doing so because the more education a person receives the more likely he/she is to wait until marriage to have children.  So the average rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or more is about 6% while the rate for those with only a high school diploma is over 50%.  Therefore, the more people there are in the higher-educated category, the lower the overall rate of non-marital childbearing.

And that apparently is what’s been happening.  More people are completing college, and they’re the ones least likely to have children outside of marriage.

It remains to be seen if this mini-trend will continue, but for now the news regarding single-parenthood is improving.

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