Shock: most births in women under 30 now happen outside marriage

This statistic should raise a few eyebrows:

It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.

Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.

“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.

The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill. Liberal analysts argue that shrinking paychecks have thinned the ranks of marriageable men, while conservatives often say that the sexual revolution reduced the incentive to wed and that safety net programs discourage marriage.

Here in Lorain, a blue-collar town west of Cleveland where the decline of the married two-parent family has been especially steep, dozens of interviews with young parents suggest that both sides have a point.

Over the past generation, Lorain lost most of two steel mills, a shipyard and a Ford factory, diminishing the supply of jobs that let blue-collar workers raise middle-class families. More women went to work, making marriage less of a financial necessity for them. Living together became routine, and single motherhood lost the stigma that once sent couples rushing to the altar. Women here often describe marriage as a sign of having arrived rather than a way to get there.

Meanwhile, children happen.

Read more.


  1. It’s disgraceful if you ask me. No one has any shame any more. The sexual revolution reaching its logical conclusion, and the children are left holding the bag. But at least the parents didn’t abort, and I am truly grateful for that. Whatever reasonable assisstance we as society can provide I’ll support it. But we somehow need to make marriage the right alternative again.

  2. Paul Stokell says:

    “Whatever. I do what I want.” Yeah, let’s see how far that goes.

  3. ron chandonia says:

    I would hardly call this a shock. It’s the end result (well, near the end anyway) of the Sexual Revolution. But the tone of the Times article really is shocking. Where is that oh-so-sophisticated nonjudgmentalism with which even the most horrifying aspects of modern sexual behavior are invariably described? Instead, we get this just-the-facts report:

    Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University recently found that children born to married couples, on average, “experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”

    And it’s followed by the closing comment from a single mom whose baby-daddy is a total loser: No surprise to me that my kid will fail to thrive; I can hardly stay awake to deal with her.

    I wish this were the hill on which Catholics were standing to fight. I think we might garner more public support than we’re getting on contraceptive insurance or even gay marriage.

  4. Mary Russell says:

    The only surprising thing about this statistic is that anyone is surprised by it. Really, how big does your bubble have to be not to know that most kids are now born to unmarried parents?

  5. pagansister says:

    But for goodness sake, let’s make ABC hard to get!

  6. Mary Russell says:

    It’s not hard to get for anybody.

  7. pagansister says:

    Should have added—-as “shocking” as this is supposed to be to some, the women didn’t have an abortion and it seems from the article that many have kept their children. That should be making some happy, I would assume.

  8. pagansister says:

    Which makes some folks very unhappy.

  9. Mary Russell says:

    The easy availability and acceptance of contraception correlates closely e rise in out of wedlock births.

  10. ron chandonia says:

    It is the mindset evident in comments like this – playing-it-cute, I’d call it – that make illegitimacy such an intractable social problem. Even the single mothers in this article seem to recognize that both they and their children have lost something very valuable, perhaps even necessary, for their welfare. This is a tragedy for all parties involved and for our society as a whole, not an opportunity to put in a plug for what is already all-too-available to these women: cheap birth control and abortion.

  11. ron chandonia says:

    . . . that makeS . . .

  12. While sometimes I know the NYT drives us all nuts – this is actually a well-balanced and factual story. (which is what I expect from the Times at it’s best) It is not good news but it is important news. While the focus is on unwed mothers – perhaps the lost story is about marriage and how few women (other then those who are college educated) appear to even appear to aspire to marriage. Not just raise a child as a married couple – even get married. Wow.

    Then the irony that those women who have a four-year college degree and could conceivable be able to financially afford to raise a child alone, are the ones who by a wide margin are most likely to have a child in wedlock.

    And then about this quote…
    “Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.”

    Did anyone else read this and think – how sad but true?

    I know folks can point to some exceptions but as a whole does anybody seriously disagree with Professor Furstenberg? Several often lament in this blog how so many want the church portion of the wedding to be just part of the production and pay lip service to the sacramental. Do we as a society, do we as a Church, heck does anyone in our country of any faith or no faith actually model in 2011 a simple but joyous wedding? (I am talking ceremony, gown, reception –everything)

    I am not making excuses for folks decisions – but I am suggesting that as a Church and as a society we should perhaps think about how we can encourage young people to value and aspire marriage. And making marriage into something more then a luxury good.

  13. It’s not hard to get IF you have money and/or good health insurance.

  14. Deacon Norb says:

    In late March 2003 (I know when because the opening scenes of Operation Iraqi Freedom were being played on CNN), Emory University sponsored a major national conference on “Marriage and the Religions of the Book” which I attended.

    During one of those “mix-and-mingle” times we had at that conference, I struck up a conversation with a fairly young (say mid/late-twenties) lady who was employed by the Federal government (HHS I think) as an outreach intervention specialist for teen-aged pregnancies.

    One of the points of discussion — I brought it up — was the phenomena of high-school aged girls who get pregnant deliberately (these were not “oops” pregnancies).

    The young lady from the HHS — who was “White/Anglo” by the way — pointed out correctly that among some sub-cultures in America getting pregnant, carrying the child to-term and keeping that child was a sign of cultural status and maturity. I knew what she was talking about and agreed that this did indeed occur among various minority groups but that wasn’t what I was talking about. I was seeing that phenomena surface among middle and upper-middle class “White/Anglo” high-school aged girls as well and wanted her input as to why?

    She mumbled a rather ineffective response and quickly moved off to other folks gathered in that assembly area. I only have to wonder whether her own stereotypes and biases was causing her to lose the race with reality — and I rather inconveniently reminded her of that.

    That conversation — between a long-time Roman Catholic Deacon and a fairly low-level rookie governmental bureaucrat — was almost nine years ago. The politics of that moment was Republican; the current events of that moment was war; and the setting was a major Baptist University in the old South.

    ’nuff said.

  15. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    The CDC in 2009 found that 99% of American women have access to affordable artificial contraception. The average cost is about $600/year — $10 a week.

    You don’t need a lot of money or good health insurance. The meme that this is somehow a public health crisis, and that women are being deprived of this, is a lie. Every woman in America who wants ABC is getting it. Let me repeat that: EVERY WOMAN IN AMERICA WHO WANTS ARTIFICIAL BIRTH CONTROL IS GETTING IT.

    Dcn. G.

  16. Remember the VP Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown incident? He was castigated by the media and women for saying that a child should be raised by two parents.,9171,975627,00.html

    Should have seen the writing on the wall back then.

  17. “…I am suggesting that as a Church and as a society we should perhaps think about how we can encourage young people to value and aspire marriage. And making marriage into something more then a luxury good.” I agree with that. And to do that, we have to challenge the whole idea of sex without commitment; sex as a contact sport; and sex as expected for taking a girl out for dinner. Someone tongue-in-cheek suggested that we make it a social norm that sex is out until after the third date; in that way a girl would weed out the obvious morons and losers (and no, I’m not suggesting that the only morons and losers are male!). I would hate to be a college girl now and try to navigate the dating scene; it used to be a big decision whether to let a guy kiss you on the first date; now it’s a whole lot worse than that.

  18. For some people, $600 per year is a lot of money.

  19. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Guess what: sex — unlike food and shelter — isn’t a necessity for living.

    Women are dying because they can’t afford mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies.

    The last thing the government should be giving away for free is artificial birth control, abortificients or sterilizations.

    This is a public health crisis that was manufactured.

    Dcn. G.

  20. I read the article as well and one thing that struck ME, was the qoute that marriage is seen as only a piece of paper. They have scraped away all fluff and ceremony and seen marriage for what it is at its’ most basic level- a contract, that make not be enforceable. They’re right as far it goes. However, I believe that marriage CAN be so much more, IF the people involved BELIEVE that it can be and work towards it. The real problem here seem to Me to their belief system, which leads to a self fofulling prophecy. The other problem is a serious lack of “marriageable” men. Marriage IS hard work and many men are simply NOT interested in hard work. That being the case, many women who want children are willing to forgo marriage to “another child” and simply have a child on their own.

  21. Because of the upcoming primary, the Republicans have been coming to Michigan. Some local news people asked Rick Santorum about preventative health care. He said preventative health care should not be covered by health insurance. He compared it to getting the oil changed on your car. He said it was something you should pay for yourself. I could not believe him.

  22. He starts talking about preventative care about 13:32 into the youtube version of the show.

  23. Some things to consider:

    –Most engaged couples that start their pre-Marriage preparation under the guidance of a Catholic parish in our neck of the woods are in their late 20′s. In another blog-stream on the Bench, I recall a deacon saying that his age-range was from 19 – 33 but that 90% of those engaged couples fall between 25-27.

    –Some time back — but “off-line” — I was asked to respond to a survey of how much any given parishes charge for weddings in their parishes. A very few, it turns out, do not charge at all for parishioners. From among those who do charge I saw $100 in small-town Midwestern parishes; $500 for the Cathedral Church in a moderate sized city; $1,000 in a fairly every-day parish in the New York Metropolitan Area.

    Which brings up my core issue. If society insists that weddings be the singular event of the local social Calendar — and total expenses of $10k – $40k is not that unheard of — why are we so upset when folks decline to go that way?

  24. Will,

    Santorum is right. Insurance should be for unexpected catastrophic expenses, not for routine planned expenses. That’s what automobile and homeowner’s insurance is like, and it’s what most of us would choose to buy, if we could choose our own health insurance.

    While there’s nothing wrong with having some sort of assistance program in place to help the poor with routine health care, that’s not insurance, and most of us don’t need it.

  25. As for birth control, if people are concerned about the poor having access to free or inexpensive contraceptives, why not start a private charity. That’s what we do. You could give it a catchy name, like, oh I don’t know … “Planned Parenthood” or something. And leave us out of it.

  26. I guess there have always been girls who looked for love in all the wrong places; but I know what you mean about it being more common among the so-called upper or middle class teens. There’s the whole “Teen Mom” reality show thing, which I can’t stand. I wonder if sometimes they’re looking for unconditional love; and they feel that a child will give them that. Nevermind that the reality of parenting is that most of the time the unconditional love has to come from the parent.

  27. More pastors should say what ours did, from the pulpit: that if any couples in our parish want an inexpensive, simple wedding without a lot of fuss; come and talk to him; we can make it happen.

  28. Hi Deacon Greg,
    Can you point me down a path to find a resource(s)/links for the CDC figures used in your comment above to Kenneth? Would love to share this data with our readers as well, and I know I will get pushback if not properly cited. Thanks!

  29. A lot of people cannot afford preventative care. They skip it and much more expensive problems develop. A lot of people cannot afford ongoing drugs. They skip them and end up with acute needs. This is not made up – it happens all of the time.

  30. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    It’s referenced in this piece at Hot Air.

    Dcn. G.

  31. I knew the trend was going this way, but it was a surprise to me that the majority of children from under 30 parents were this way. The majority!

  32. Give me a break. A box of condoms cost five bucks. They give them away free in some places. You’ve got to be a moron not to be able to get condoms. The problem is the sexual revolution itself. The notion that you can have sex with no consequences. Surprise, surprise. People screw up and don’t use birth control 100% of the time. The lack of morality attached to unmarried sex is what lowers the social inhibitions.

  33. Liberals are just as clueless today as they were back then. Nothing has changed.

  34. Mary, That makes no sense. How can you say that more people using contraception results in more births?

  35. At some level we’re probably letting this become too much of a debate on birth control when it seems that many of these unwed pregnancies have nothing to do with unintended consequences or libertine behavior. I think a lot of what we’re seeing is economic and social factors having made men unreliable partners. Most women want kids at sometime in their lives. Those in the bottom 2/5ths, perhaps even the middle quintile as well these days, are finding no really marriagable men out there. Men without college educations, and even many with degrees, simply have no real career prospects these days. With no jobs or on and off minimum wage gigs compounded with criminal records, why would a woman want to take them as a husband? They’d be a bigger burden then help. I think many of these young women have sort of a fatalistic resignation that marriage has no benefits, and if they’re going to have kids, they’re going to have to make the best of it alone.

  36. Deacon Greg,

    Quite simply, you shouldn’t rely on the interpretation of the CDC report as presented in the Hot Air piece you link to.

    Unfortunately, your comment to Kenneth that “The CDC in 2009 found that 99% of American women have access to affordable artificial contraception” is not what the CDC actually found. If you read the actual report, you will see that the CDC is reporting that 99% of American women ages 15-44 who have ever had sex have used some form of contraception at least once in their lifetime (Table 1). The CDC report also doesn’t limit the term “contraception” to artificial birth control for women but includes the male condom, male sterilization, and withdrawal as contraceptive methods.

    The Hot Air column’s further claim that “Of all the reasons for non-use of contraception in cases of unwanted pregnancy, lack of access doesn’t even make the CDC’s list” is disingenuous at best. This is discussed on page 15 of the CDC report. The report makes clear that the statistical table (Table E) is based on a small sample (842 women) who were asked to select from among six specific reasons for why the women weren’t using contraception when they became pregnant. Lack of access (affordability) wasn’t one of the choices the women could select from, so of course it doesn’t appear in the results.

    That said, this is a really fascinating report that I’d encourage others to read and look at the statistical tables. The report can be found as a PDF file on the CDC website. Other nuggets from the report:

    “The Pill” is primarily used for contraception by the 15-29 age group. For older age groups, sterilization is the primary method of contraception. (Table 5.) For Black and Hispanic women, sterilization is more widely used than the pill. (Table 6.) At least in terms of being open to life, I think the Church should worry much more about sterilization than the pill. Use of sterilization as a contraceptive method correlates with such factors as being older, being less educated, being poorer, and having more children. Until you read the report, I don’t think you realize just how popular sterilization is.

    Use of NFP by women is negligible at best (0.1 percent). Calendar rhythm methods are 5x more widely used by women (0.5 percent). There has been a three-fold drop in the percentage of women using NFP over the past 25 years. (Table 4.)

    Of women ages 15-19, 60% of that age group either hadn’t ever had sex or hadn’t had it in the 3 months before being interviewed. (Table 5.) As The Who said, the kids are alright.

  37. Fiergenholt says:

    I have to admit I have not already read this complete CDC report but may well do so in the future (whenever I have time!!). However, nothing Bill Logan included here is at all surprising — particularly the second last paragraph.

    In spite of all sorts of energy placed upon NFP at the local Catholic parish level, it has not caught-on and — if the data above is factual — is actually in decline. Consider there two reasons:

    1. One of the characteristics that NFP requires — an intense level of physical intimacy well beyond that of actual intercourse — can be very problematic for some women, particularly those who value their privacy and the highly personal nature of their own physiology.

    2. Then there is the whole “cross-generation” distrust that some women have about any form of birth control that is approved/advocated by an all-male Church governance. Those women today who were married in the early 1960′s encountered only one “approved” birth control method and that was horribly unreliable. They passed that bit of wisdom on to their daughters (and now grand-daughters).

  38. Deacon Norb says:

    If I go back to the start of Vatican II in Fall 1962, and move forward in time to the present, the parish that I currently minister at has had five priest pastors (and maybe seven priests as Assistant Pastors).

    The current priest/pastor (we do not have the luxury of priest/assistant pastors any more) is the ONLY one who has ever taken the initiative to push and support NFP training couples. In other words, from October 1962 until July 2011 there was no official support (be it financial in support of the training for the couples or affirmation from the pulpit or bulletin articles) at all.

    I have to wait and see how this works. One of the things I have noticed is that a number of NFP Mentor Couples “crash and burn” after about 3-4 years of doing this work. In fact, I have to replace the facilitator couple on the “Intimacy” talk for our parish Engaged Couples Conference this next year because that very issue.

    Luckily, my pastor has already recruited three to take NFP training and has agreed to pay all fees. I guess you “have to put your money where your mouth is.”

  39. pagansister says:

    Deacon E. Stoltz, I have had that statement made to me by others. I have yet to figure out how the availability and acceptance has made for MORE births. There are some who actually believe that. Oh well.

  40. pagansister says:

    In all honesty, I find it hard to believe that the RCC is going to be able to sustain their rules condemming ABC. Women today have so many more options than the Churche’s approved method (which has the same purpose—prevent pregnancy) and as some mentioned above in a couple of posts—having one’s tubes tied is a sure way to insure there will be no more children (if one’s husband isn’t willing to have surgery). I also think that couples who have had the number of children they feel comfortable supporting will not want to take the chances NFP presents and will use ABC or have surgery. Of course this article is about those women under 30 having kids outside of marriage. They obviously have used no birth control—or it failed.

  41. dcn marv robertson says:

    As a (now retired) juvenile judge for twenty five years, I found that the majority of my hardcore juvenile delinquent court wards came from single parent homes. Penal statistics show that most incarcerated adult felons come from single parent homes.

    Many who choose to ignore this data for politically “correct” reasons are prone to chant the mantra, ” Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

  42. Lizzy Howard says:

    I lived with shame every moment of my life after my son was stolen for adoption. Shame is alive and well. Shame now drives women in their droves into abortion clinics, much as it once drove them into maternity homes – one kills the unborn while the other destroys the mother: flipsides of the coin of eugenics. Social cleansing is at the heart of it. The only humane path now is to embrace the most vulnerable members of family, community, society. Adoption shaming prepared the ground for the abortion industry to thive.

  43. Lizzy Howard says:

    There was no sexual revolution. There was adoption or abortion.

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