The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Wednesday on preliminary data for 2007 birth rates in the United States. Among those statistics, a new historic high — 39.7 percent of babies born in America are to unmarried women. Even worse, 71.6 percent of out-of-wedlock births are to African American women.
This should be alarming to read considering the negative societal implications for children born and raised in single parent households. It is well documented that compared with children born to married couples, those born outside of marriage score lower on tests, have increased chances for committing a crime, have higher chances of living in poverty, experience more emotional and behavioral problems, are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and have higher chances of becoming pregnant as teens.
Most of the poverty in America can be intrinsically linked to the decline of marriage. When cash assistance programs were first introduced in society during the War on Poverty, less than ten percent of babies were born out of wedlock. For decades long, this well intentioned program had the unfortunate consequence of encouraging single women to have more children out of wedlock and penalized them if they got married or found employment. Not surprisingly, the welfare caseloads exploded and the out of wedlock birth rate steadily rose. The 1996 welfare reform law made long strides in helping single moms find employment and the 2005 reauthorization of this program created a $150 million marriage and fatherhood program. However, not enough is being done today to encourage healthy marriages and educate low income couples on the benefits of marriage.
President Obama understands the gravity of high out-of-wedlock birth rates and the importance of marriage. From his book The Audacity of Hope:
[C]hildren living with single mothers are five times more likely to be poor than children in two-parent households. Children in single-parent homes are also more likely to drop out of school and become teen parents, even when income is factored out. And the evidence suggests that on average, children who live with their biological mother and father do better than those who live in stepfamilies or with cohabiting partners…. In light of these facts, policies that strengthen marriage for those who choose it and that discourage unintended births outside of marriage are sensible goals to pursue.
This new data should serve as a wake up call that more efforts need to be focused on educating the population on the vast benefits of marriage. Not only do children fare far better being raised in a two-parent married families but society is made stronger, communities prosper and poverty declines.