New Report: 48 Percent of First Children Born to Unwed Mothers

Penny Starr | March 21, 2013 | 9:54am EDT
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Patrick Fagan, senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at the Family Research Council, attended an event on Feb. 20, 2013 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., for the release of a new report on marriage. ( Starr)

( – Calling it “The Great Crossover,” a report by academics and social activists shows that for the first time in history the median age of American women having babies is lower than the median age of marriage – 25.7 and 26.5, respectively.

These “dramatic changes in childbearing,” the report states, results in dramatic statistics about American children. Among them, 48 percent of first births are by unwed mothers, and by age 30 two-thirds of American women have had a child, typically out of wedlock.

Kay Hymowitz, an author of the report and a William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said at an event to release the report on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, that it reflects how the view of what marriage is about has changed.

This includes young adults who say marriage and children “are two separate things,” Hymowitz said.

The overall consensus of the report, with data in part gleaned from the U.S. Census Bureau is that Americans are postponing marriage to their late 20s and 30s, putting that separation in place.

“Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone’ – that is, something they do after they have all their ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood,” the report states.

The report cites two reasons – middle class American men having difficulty finding stable employment that allows them to support a family and “a less understood” reason about the disconnect between marriage and childbearing.

The report states that the “good news” of delayed marriage is that women can more easily have successful careers, and research shows that divorce rates are lower for later marriages.

The “troubling” new trend, the report states, is “The Great Crossover” where delayed marriage does not necessarily mean delayed motherhood.

The report, compiled by The National Marriage Project at University of Virginia, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and The Relate Institute, also examines why the “private” decision to become a parent ahead of a marriage commitment – when done by such a large a portion of the population – has consequences for society at large.

“Researchers now view family instability as one of the greatest risks to children’s well being,” the report states. “Yet unmarried adults, including single 20-somethings who make up about half of unmarried parents, are by definition unsettled.

Further, the report states: “Most researchers agree that on average, whether because of instability or absent fathers or both, children of unmarried mothers have poorer outcomes than children growing up with their married parents.”

While a panel discussion on the report included some commentary on how religious beliefs have influenced the institution of marriage and Americans’ view of it, the report is void of any connection between morality and marriage trends and does not mention religion, churches or God.

Patrick Fagan, senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at the Family Research Council, told that the prevailing social ethos in today’s culture that “anything goes” results in a disconnect between this kind of data and its moral implications.

“The social science data reflects the reality,” Fagan said. “So we have a contrast between the reality and the moral discourse about the reality.

“We can look at the numbers, but we can’t discuss the principles behind them,” Fagan said. “Even though they may be glaring at us, we cannot talk about them.”

The report concludes that “too many young adults are drifting unintentionally into parenthood before they have a plan or a partner who enable them to give their children the life and family they deserve,” but it stops sort of universal support for marriage.

“To be clear,” the final paragraph of the report states, “as noted above, we believe that marriage is not for everyone, be they 20-something or some other age.

“We recognize that not all parents can or should get married,” the report states, while adding that the “decoupling” of marriage and childbearing is “deeply worrisome.”

The solution? More government programs “to help 20-something men and women figure out new ways to put the baby carriage after marriage.”

Fagan disagrees.

“Government is incompetent in social policy,” Fagan said. “That is very clear.

“The competence lies within the family, within the church and within the school,” Fagan said. “They are the three people-forming institutions.”

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