Bring Back The Stigma Against Unwed Mothers

By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

New government figures on births to unwed mothers show that the genie is not only out of the bottle: she has nuked it. One in four American children is born to an unwed mother. The New York Times reports many times couples are living together, but that is still a much less-stable environment for a child than to be born to a married couple:

Before 1970, most unmarried mothers were teenagers. But in recent years the birthrate among unmarried women in their 20s and 30s has soared -- rising 34 percent since 2002, for example, in women ages 30 to 34. In 2007, women in their 20s had 60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.

Much of the increase in unmarried births has occurred among parents who are living together but are not married, cohabitation arrangements that tend to be less stable than marriages, studies show.

There's no stigma to unwed parenthood anymore, but there should be. Debate rages on about whether children born to unwed mothers fare worse than children born to married couples. But those data have been around for at least 15 years now, and all the while the unwed motherhood rate has risen steadily.

Maybe we should start circulating a different data set. A study by an Ohio State University researcher found in 2005 that:

Women who have children outside of marriage are less likely than other single women to marry, and when they do marry, their husbands tend to be less well-matched, according to a new study.

That won't deter most single women from having children. But it will deter some. Many young Americans have given up entirely on the institution of marriage. I once asked a young woman why she planned never to marry. She said something to the effect that marriage hadn't worked for her parents, so why bother? I replied, "Marriage is far from perfect, but does that mean the alternative is better?"

I bet many young, independent women who bear children outside of marriage will find later in life that marriage is the lesser of two evils.

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By Bonnie Erbe