The institution of marriage has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. In 1960, nearly 70% of American adults were married. In that same year, 59% of adults aged 18-29 were married, compared to today’s 20% in that same age range. According to a study by the Pew Research center, at present, barely half of U.S. adults are married, a record low.
Equipped with this knowledge, it should come as no surprise that a recent study conducted by Child Trends revealed that in 2009 53% of children born to women under the age of 30 were born to unmarried women. I first came across this statistic in an article on Motherlode in which the author, KJ Dell’Antonia, points out that in recent years we have de-stigmatized having children out of wedlock. “Many of us pride ourselves on the modernity of this relatively new way of thinking,” she says. Dell’Antonia then goes on to question whether that pride is misplaced. “What’s most troubling about these figures is that marriage is good for children,” she says.
I have to both agree and disagree with that statement. Yes, the research shows that the children of married couples are less likely to live in poverty or to exhibit behavioral problems, and are more likely to perform well in school. The research also shows that in 2010 64% of college graduates were married compared to 47% of high school graduates. Which begs the question, is it marriage that’s good for children or is it the socioeconomic status into which they are born?
In a world where the cost of college tuition has risen by 900% in the last 30 years, making it more and more unaffordable for the average American, and where the more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, aren’t we setting unwed mothers, a group that is already at an economic disadvantage, up to fail by comparison?
It hardly seems fair to compare the life of a child raised by an unwed mother with a high school education struggling to make ends meet in today’s economic climate and a child raised by a married couple with college educations and chalk the success of the child raised in a “traditional” home up to their parents’ marriage.
In her article, Dell’Antonia poses a similar question, “Is it the marriage, or the greater stability that often correlates with marriage, that makes the difference, and which should we be trying to affect?”
Personally, I think we need to take the focus off of the decline in marriage and the rise in out-of-wedlock births and put it back on ways to improve the stability and the quality of life of every family, be that family traditional or untraditional.
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