This is a post about how 37% of babies born in 2005 were to unmarried women. That's a lot. In the county where I live (where do I live? I think I live in my car...but the county where my car is registered) it is about 50%. Why are women not getting married when they find themselves pregnant? It is women in their 20s who are driving the increase, so we're not talking teenagers here.
I know several women who had babies recently without the benefit of marriage. Let's look at the reasons for each (names changed because I feel like doing that):
Morgan was 19, just out of high school, and about the start community college when she had Mason. She moved in with the baby's father, but they did not have enough money to do up a good wedding, so put it off. Currently, things are not going well between them, so I'm not so sure they'll get married next year as planned. Oh, and I think Morgan will lose her WIC, Medicaid, and TANF if they get married. They neeed the subsidized day care so they can both work, so marriage is not economically attractive to them as it might be if the Dad had health insurance he could provide for all of them.
Jackson is a 39 year old divorcee. She got engaged to a great guy in summer 2005. Since her clock was ticking away, they opted to start trying for kids right away. Less than 6 months later, she was pregnant. So, they put their houses on the market and started looking for one together, baby was born, etc. Baby has his last name, and I think they will get married soon, but with all that other stuff (new baby, selling 2 houses, buying one, etc), they didn't have time to plan and execute a wedding before the baby's birth.
So, apparently, there is no stigma to single motherhood anymore. I think that's both good and bad. It's wrong to stigmatize children for things they didn't do wrong (sins of the father and all that). The lyrics to Diana Ross's "Love Child" are heartbreaking.
But, but, but, study after study has proven that children with two parents who are committed (married) to each other do better in life than children with precarious family situations (even long-term cohabitating parents). So, the baby of the 39 year old woman is probably going to do better than the baby of the 19-year old girl no matter what just because the mom was stable prior to having the baby, but I am pretty sure they will actually tie the knot.
- But, what if the 19-year old had gotten married while pregnant? Forget the big wedding with limos and fuschia dressed bridesmaids. Maybe they just went to the JoP like so many before them, or had 25 of their closest family in attendance and had dinner at the Olive Garden afterward (hey, all you can eat salad). Would parents in a notsogood marriage be better for the kid than unmarried parents? Most studies say yes. But a good marriage is better for kids than a bad one. How's that for "staying together for the kids"? Here are the ideal family situations for children ranked in order from best to worst...
- Living with two stable, committed (married, if possible) lesbian mommies (apparently, kids with two moms do better than kids with only one)
- Living with your stably married parents
- Living with two stable, committed (married, if possible) daddies
- Living with one of your parents with frequent contact with the other, happily divorced parents who don't fight
- Living with your unmarried parents together
- Living with your very unhappily (think physically abusive, alcoholic, emotionally stunted) married parents
- Living with one of your divorced parents but they still fight and bad mouth each other
- Living with one of your parents who was never married to your other parent
My parents were a 2, became a 6, then a 7, and wound up as a 4. I'm happy (mostly, except for the hating everyone and everything stuff) person. I have a good marriage. I love my husband dearly. Sometimes, we are just going through the motions of being married, but the rest of the time, it's good. We put our marriage first because we put our son first. We know that we need a strong marriage for him.
Now, I'm not advocating pregnant women all across America run out and get married, but I do think a little less emphasis should be placed on whether she can have fun (i.e drink) at her wedding or fit into a nice dress and a little more emphasis on creating a stable environment for the baby-to-be is a good idea.
By the way, shame and stigma did a lot to keep the unwed birth numbers down. Lots of women waited to have sex until they were married or with a guy they were pretty sure would marry them if something were to happen. It also used to be that unwed mothers were denied welfare benfits and other societal recognitions. So, huh.