The number of babies born to unwed mothers rose nearly 8 percent to a new record high in 2006 --a 20 percent increase since 2002. The percentage of all U.S. births to unmarried mothers increased from 36.9 percent in 2005 to 38.5 percent in 2006. That means almost two out of every five babies were born to illegitimate moms.
Compare this recent data to historical data with a minimal 3.5 percent of births to unwed mothers in the 1940s. By 1960, the figure had crept up to slightly more than 5 percent. As late as 1970, 89 percent of children were born to married women. But by the 1990s the numbers of children born to unwed mothers had dramatically jumped to the 32-33 per cent range. And the numbers increased to 38.5 percent of all births in 2006. Moreover, half of all births to unwed mothers were second and later children.
What caused the tragic growth in the number of babies conceived and born outside the bond of matrimony? I've looked high and low on the web to find a good scientific paper on the reasons for the dramatic increase and have yet to find one that adequately discusses the issues. So let this old granny take a crack at answering the question.
There are three major reasons that people avoid evil. First, if they believe in God, heaven, and hell, they either want to please Him and earn heaven, or at least want to avoid His wrath. Second, people don't err if they understand their peers will dislike them and disapprove of their bad actions. Third, most people won't do bad things if they know they will be punished by government policy or nature.
Sadly, the above reasons are all being violated in today's world. While most people say they believe in God, they reject God's punishment in hell. Go to any funeral and listen to the preacher or priest say the deceased is now in heaven. Belief in hell as taught by Jesus Christ has been abandoned, so people don't believe they will be punished for their sins. God is all good, they say, and he doesn't punish people. This belief contradicts traditional Christian teaching, "Mercy in this world, justice in the next."
The second reason deals with peer pressure. Most people avoid doing something that causes a friend, neighbor, or relative to look at them with disgust or irritation or disapproval. In parts of U.S. society today, families and friends expect and even approve of unwed motherhood, exactly the opposite of civilized societies which rightfully display indignation, shame, and sorrow over a baby that will not enjoy a lifetime of two parents.
What about government? What has it done to discourage unwed motherhood? For the past 40+ years, government has rewarded unwed motherhood with free money, free health benefits, free food, and other resources. No one seems to remember the old adage, "Actions that are rewarded will be multiplied."
If a girl or woman also believes there are few if any natural penalties for having children outside of wedlock, then why not get pregnant? Yet the natural effects from illegitimate pregnancies and child raising include poverty, inadequate care and training of children, bad behavior, crime, academic problems, bad example for the next generation, etc. The list goes on and on.
The solutions to unwed motherhood are easy to see by reading the above four paragraphs. Families, churches, neighbors, schools, and government all have roles to play in returning parenthood to exclusive married relationships.
A reader, Mary Jane, has commented: "I'm interested in your article. What are your sources for your statistics?" Here is the reply that was emailed to her.
The statistics describing births to unwed mothers are documented by the underlined references embedded in the above post. The statistics on the disadvantages and problems associated with single-parent families are sprinkled across many thousands of pages of the Internet. For example, see the Princeton-Brookings website.
If you ask for statistics to buttress my opinions on the causes and solutions of unwed motherhood, then perhaps taking the observations one at a time might be profitable.
I believe the first reason for the increase in unwed motherhood is the decreasing fear of displeasing God and the absence of belief in the possibility of being punished in hell. To look for statistics on changing religious viewpoints in the U.S., try the Pew Forum or the Barna Group. The latter group noted in 2003 that even though 73 percent of Americans believe in hell, "just one-half of 1% expect to go to Hell upon their death."
People have always embraced excuses for their bad choices, but now very few peers exist who have the fortitude to criticize their family and friends for undesirable behavior. The second reason for the increasing number of children born out of wedlock is that Americans are superbly trained by our over-tolerant culture never to say anything that offends anyone. In fact, that concept has been embodied in anti-harassment laws.
The lack of good peer pressure means girls are often proud they are pregnant and about to have a baby with their boyfriend. Unwed mothers wear the badge of single-motherhood as a badge of honor, whereas in the bad old days they had to wear a scarlet letter. Murphy Brown was defiantly proud of being an "unwed mother." She assumed the role of an independent woman, the do-it-all woman; so why should we be surprised that others have emulated her?
The appearance of rewards constitutes the third reason for increased rates of out-of-wedlock children. What are the rewards? Some of the governmental rewards include (see 2008 report of state expenditures on replacement programs for Aid to Dependent Children in Connecticut):
- Temporary Family Assistance(cash assistance)
- Child Care Subsidies
- Transitionary and other Rental Assistance Programs
- Transition to Employment Independence Program
- School-Based Health Centers
- Medicaid-funded health insurance for children and adult caretaker relatives
- Helping unwed mothers obtain financial and medical support from boyfriends
- Safety Net Services, including clothing, food, employment assistance and case management