20-Somethings Are the New Unmarried Moms
The new face of childrearing out of wedlock is the 20-something woman, rather than the teen mom. That's the takeway from a new report, "Knot Yet," published by a coalition of marriage research organizations.
It's a major phenomenon shaping American society. The age of women at first birth has risen over time, but the age of women at first marriage has risen even faster. The result is that now almost half of all first births are to unmarried women:
Three of the report's authors, Kay Hymowitz, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Kelleen Kaye, write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "Today's typical unmarried mother is a high-school graduate in her early 20s who may very well be living with her child's father.... Despite her apparent advantages, however, she faces many of the same problems that we used to associate with her younger sisters. If 30 is the new 20, today's unmarried 20-somethings are the new teen moms. And the tragic consequences are much the same: children raised in homes that often put them at an enormous disadvantage from the very start of life."
The authors contend that the key factor in increase in out-of-wedlock childrearing by 20-something mothers is the fact that young adults are taking longer to finish school and "stabilize their work lives." Relatedly, young people are more likely to see marriage as a "capstone" event or achievement rather than a gateway to adulthood.
This development, the authors argue, works well for young people who are able to achieve a high level of education and career success, but that it's been a different story for middle America:
As this chart shows, college grads have almost entirely dodged the trend. For folks without a college education, however, the result has been childrearing decoupled from marriage. In the Atlantic, Derek Thompson delves into some possible explanations for the decline of marriage among less-educated Americans, including "(1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person."
Setting aside the causes of this social stratification of marriage, it's not a welcome development. So the authors of "Knot Yet" maintaining, noting that the children of unwed parents tend to fare worse on a number of social measures, such as drug use and poor school performance. And, just as importantly, the children of unmarried parents are far more likely to spend their early years in an unstable family situation: