Unwed childbearing has been on the rise for more than five decades, and today more than 40 percent of U.S. children are born to single women. A new study additionally reveals that the majority—53 percent—of births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage.
Rather than a teen birth issue, as is commonly thought, most unwed births are to women in their 20s. While the teen birthrate has declined in recent decades, the number of unmarried 20-something women giving birth has increased.
However, unwed childbearing isn’t the norm for all young women. In fact, for the college-educated it is still very uncommon. The majority of births are instead to women with a high school diploma or less.
The growing rate of unwed childbearing among these low- and middle-income women compounds the economic problems they will face. Eighty percent of all long-term poverty occurs in single-parent homes, and children in single-parent families are approximately five times more likely to be poor than their peers from married-parent homes.
Additionally, children from single-parent homes face a variety of other challenges that perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Compared to their peers from married-parent families, they are less likely to graduate, have lower rates of academic achievement, have a greater likelihood of experiencing emotional problems, engage in delinquent behaviors at greater rates, and are more likely to become single-parents themselves. (Although about half of the children born to single women are born to those in cohabiting relationships, these relationships frequently do not lead to marriage, and children from cohabiting families do not reap the same benefits as their peers from married-parent homes.)
The increasing rate of unwed childbearing, as well as the corresponding breakdown of marriage, in low- and middle-income America is creating a divided society split along the lines of marriage and education.
Efforts to strengthen marriage are crucial to stemming the growing unwed-birth rate and rebuilding the weakening foundations of a growing number of U.S. communities.