Yetley: Out of wedlock births

Claire Yetley

Based on Pew Research data, 46 percent of fathers say at least one of their children was born out of wedlock, 31 percent of fathers say all their children were born out of wedlock, and 17 percent of men with biological children have fathered them with more than one woman. As of October 2012, 40.7 percent of births were considered illegitimate or out of wedlock. In comparison, in 1960 out of wedlock births equaled only 11 percent of all total births in the United States.

The answer that statistics like this don’t give us is why we have seen such an increase in these kinds of births. I think there are three possible answers: Poor birth control education, a decline in the value of marriage, or a simple desire to have children without committing to marriage.

In our nation with multiple different options for birth control, we still have 37 states that have their government-funded sex education programs as officially abstinence-only. It differs from school district to school district, but officially Iowa supports abstinence-only for sex education in public schools. It has also been proven that when high school students are more educated on safe sex practices, there tends to be fewer unexpected high school pregnancies. This leads to the correlation that when one has more education, they have more options for pregnancy prevention.

The reverse of this argument is that in the 1960s, public schools had even less safe sex education, and the number of out of wedlock births was lower than what it is today. So while sex education reduces high school pregnancies, it can’t do much about educating those who are out of high school.

My second thought was that maybe as a society we have had a decline in the value of marriage. I thought perhaps this could be proven by divorce rate. Today our nation’s divorce rate hovers above 50 percent for first marriages, 60 percent for second marriages, and 70 percent for third marriages. After divorce happens once, it must get easier. Additionally, people are tending to get married at older ages today than in our past.

However, all those stats are about getting married. In order to have a birth out of wedlock, the couple having the child has to not be married. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily disprove my last point, as the couple could have plans to get married after the birth of the child. But it doesn’t explain the question of why there is an increase in out of wedlock births either.

My last attempt to explain why this trend occurs is people just want kids, but they don’t want the marriage. Today, there are more and more people who have chosen to stay single. 28 percent of households are single, or one person living in that home, as compared to 14 percent in 1960. The best example I can think of is the movie Friends With Kids. In the story, two friends decided they wanted to have a child but didn’t want to get married. I’m not sure how common that situation really is, but the movie proves that the idea is out there. People are possibly thinking about committing to parenthood but not marriage.

I could understand the reasoning behind that. Parenthood has the alluring unconditional love and maybe a little bit of authority, and the possibility that a biological bond prevents separation. But parenting is hard (ask any single parent). A two-person parenting team could have less parenting, but more teamwork and communication between parents, and that communication is the factor that I think scares people out of the commitment to marriage.

So, although the trend of out of wedlock births is definitely increasing, there is no particular explanation. However, it is something that is worth keeping an eye on over the next couple of years to see how the trend changes.