Which Family: Follow-Up

The Wall Street Journal added commentary to the growing discussion of birth rates among unmarried 20somethings. In this article by UVA’s W. Bradford Wilcox, the Journal responds to the Times’ article from earlier this week, saying:

But a number of academics and advocates who track family issues are more than willing to provide intellectual cover to contemporary young adults’ laissez-faire approach to childbearing and marriage.”

Wilcox puts forth a compelling synopsis of the three main factors driving these high rates of nonmarital childbearing:

Here are three more likely explanations: First, young Americans have been postponing marriage, but they are not postponing sex and cohabitation. Indeed, my own research indicates that cohabiting couples are much more likely to get pregnant than couples who do not live together. Second, working-class and poor men have seen their real wages fall since the early 1970s, which makes them less attractive as husbands to their girlfriends and to the mothers of their children. This also helps explain why nonmarital childbearing is concentrated among blacks, Latinos, and working-class and poor whites.

Third, the meaning of marriage in the U. S. has changed over the past 40 years. As sociologist Andrew Cherlin has noted, marriage used to be the “foundation” for adulthood, sex, intimacy and childbearing. Now, marriage is viewed by many Americans as a “capstone” that signals that a couple has arrived — financially, professionally and emotionally.”

And, while I’m not sure this is necessarily a good sign, he quotes CT’s research from May 2007, which found that only 7% of college-educated women were contributing to the uptick in unmarried births. Couple that with the lower divorce rates among higher-educated people, and it seems to me that a new class distinction may be arising in the United States. To be sure, one rooted in economics, in income and buying power, but increasingly, one also tied to a ring.


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