February 18th, 2012

Over 50% of births to mothers under 30 are outside marriage

What a sad milestone:

After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage…The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.

Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide…

What’s going on here? In this day of multiple choices for effective birth control, it’s clear that people are either being incredibly negligent about using it, or are purposely having these children. What’s more, whatever your stand on abortion, it’s apparent that a lot of people are foregoing that too, for whatever reason.

The fact that illegitimate births are still in the minority overall probably reflects the fact that a higher percentage of first pregnancies are now occurring in the over-30 group than used to be the case, especially in the well-educated. These women and men are postponing childbearing because birth control improvements allow them to do so effectively if it suits them—and it does suit this particular group, more and more, because both women and men are solidifying careers beforehand.

There’s little doubt in my mind that part of the trend towards more illegitimacy in the under-30 crowd is that it no longer has much social stigma at all. When I was growing up it was almost never done, except among the very poor, and even then the woman was looked down on. It was far more common to either give the baby up for adoption or to have a shotgun wedding (I knew of quite a few of the latter, some of which have lasted to this day).

Still another factor is something that you can easily see if you peruse blogs about the relationships between young men and women: the pluses of marriage have become less and less evident for both sexes, but most particularly for men (see this, this, and this for some heated discussions of the subject on this blog alone). The economics for women have changed a lot, too; as the Times piece points out, women no longer are in as much need of men economically.

Meanwhile, the high divorce rate has made young people wary and cynical:

Most of my friends say it’s just a piece of paper, and it doesn’t work out anyway.

Unwed motherhood is more common in all age groups, races, and classes than it was when I was growing up. But by far the greatest increases have occurred in three groups: non-whites, non-college graduates, and couples who live together.

The Times article briefly mentions this, but the more detailed data is startling. The good news (and really, the only good news) is that teen unwed births have declined in recent years, especially as a percentage of all unwed births. The bad news is the skyrocketing rates in the 20-somethings, and in fact in all age groups except teens (see Figure 2 at the previous link), and especially among blacks and Hispanics (see Figure 3). And although we’ve heard a lot about the illegitimate birth rate in blacks (a staggering 72%), it seems that Hispanics actually have the highest rates of all as a group.

All of this bodes very poorly for children in particular and for society as a whole. And it’s hard to see what would realistically happen to reverse the trend in a major way. Can Humpty Dumpty ever be put back together again?

42 Responses to “Over 50% of births to mothers under 30 are outside marriage”

  1. Curtis Says:

    According to the evolution theory, according to the “change is always good” idear, we doin prit gud.

  2. Mr. Frank Says:

    The research on the impact of single parent households on children is overwhelmingly negative. While there are many notable exceptions (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas) the poverty, delinquency, violence, unemployment, and poor academic performance associated with unwed childbirth are stunning.

    The increasing difficulty schools are having passing on basic skills is related to the increase of children from single parent homes. The structure of schools assumes two parents who can discipline and encourage children to do well.

    There is also a wealth effect associated with the two parent household. Two adults working together can save and invest in the future, while single parents struggle to pay the bills. Family structure is the major explanation for the lack of wealth among black Americans.

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    It was far more common to either give the baby up for adoption or to have a shotgun wedding.

    Leave Barack Sr. and Stanley out of this.

  4. Curtis Says:

    I had a meeting with an emancipated girl. It was tragic. I loved her so hard it made my dick hurt. She left me. And then called me. For money. And the State said I had to pay her. So they did. The End.

  5. jon baker Says:

    There is a theme in the Old Testament, that when a nation abandons God, he lets oppressession come against his former people…sometimes from within, often from outside the nation…..see book of Judges and some of the prophets….

  6. Curtis Says:

    I had a meeting with an enormous girl. It was majic. She farted so hard it made my dick hurt. And then balled me. For money. And the pimp said I had to pay her. So I did. The End.

  7. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    What has lead us to this state of things? I cannot put it better than this:
    “It is not news to conservatives that, on matters of domestic policy, today’s “liberals” are actually authoritarian about everything except sex. On that score, they are as laissez-faire as can be. (E.g., it’s become all but impossible to get them to see what’s intrinsically wrong with incest and bestiality, apart from the “ick-factor” and the health risks involved. But hey, childbirth can be messy and dangerous too…) It’s that discrepancy that’s got out of control, and it’s not so much liberal as hedonistic. Today’s “liberals” want Nanny State to regulate every aspect of life except what goes on in our bedrooms, so that life is safe for the pursuit of a “happiness” understood as maximizing one’s preferences consistently with others’ maximizing theirs.” To read it all go here:

    Yes, sex is an hormonal urge that must be mastered in order to lead a less chaotic life in our society, and yet the progressives urge that it must not be curbed in any way, shape, or form. Data show that single parenthood is a sentence to a life of poverty for most, and yet it increases because progressicves do not want any restrainsts on sexual matters. or responsibillity therefore. Like so many other things that progressives believe (deficit spending is good, central planninng is good, controlling people’s speech is good, etc.) this does not pass any test of rational thinking – yet it continues. And people say they won’t vote in this election ubnless they can vote for their ideal candidate? Meh.

  8. George Pal Says:

    Humpty, as his model the egg, is not so fragile to pressure as to blunt force trauma. The repeated blows to marriage have destabilized it as an institution and all in pursuit of legitimizing sex, and all its deviant forms, as nothing more than recreation. We have subsidized men’s recreation and women’s mistakes and now feign surprise there should be unintended devastating consequences.

    If Humpty is to be put together again, penalize the consequences and subsidize the marriage. The unwed mother and the bastard child would have only the itinerant father, her own immediate family, or the church to depend on and not a cent of sympathy or taxpayer money. Don’t think of it heartless, think of it as tough love. Then do away with community property, no fault divorce, and give a man a stake in marriage he can be assured will not be stripped from him in family and divorce courts.

    There, I’ve fixed that problem.

  9. gcotharn Says:

    “All of this bodes very poorly for children in particular and for society as a whole. And it’s hard to see what would realistically happen to reverse the trend in a major way.”

    Without quibbling over what constitutes “a major way”, here are our best solutions:

    1. Christian evangelism. Historically, no group has ever evangelized as effectively as Christians have evangelized; no group has ever been as effective at creating widepread positive societal changes. The ethic is God’s will. Marriage is God’s will: God’s design.

    2. The State, for the good of the State, has a legitimate ethical and legal interest in promoting marriage as a special status. The State ought remember its duty to promote the stability of the State via encouraging marriage. The State ought do its duty with enthusiasm, and without apology.

    3. Current divorce law and child custody law MUST be swung some distance back in the direction of returning rights to men. If we were to design a system which was fully intended to diabolically damage marriage in America, we would design the exact current system of lack of equal rights for husbands and fathers. The system is diabolical: become married, GIVE AWAY your God given rights, GIVE AWAY your power, GIVE OVER YOUR children in unfair fashion.

    And, I say the above with no personal experience of the horror: I’ve never been divorced, never had my influence over a child ripped from me by the courts. But, my friends have. And I have listened to their amazing stories. They suffer under a modern day type of Jim Crow system which oppresses them. They need their own Martin Luther King.

  10. Curtis Says:

    The Christians as the best evangels? Hmmmm, Mrs. Thorn? I protest.

    Problematic, since Muslims were probably better due to the chop-your-head-off-threat (which was not beyond the Christian method as we are all too often reminded.)

    Plus, it’s entirely reasonable to count forced conversion as willing coercion since the kids do as they’re told. So, there’s that. One generation changes things.

    Connversion rates to Judasim in the Ancient World were pretty spectacular, so much so that the Roman Empire went to war against Israel. If Muslims existed in the time of Julius Ceaser, how angry would they be considering the Jewish population was one-quarter of the “civilized world.” Hunh? Don’t believe it? Do your research and don’t qoute any university in Egypt. They have lost all credibilty.

  11. gcotharn Says:

    Curtis, in considering what will impact 21st Century America, you are grounding your argument in the effectiveness of chop-your-head-off-Islam, and in the effectiveness of ancient world Judaism? I would not want to be making your argument.

    If you do not like Christianity, fine. If you believe Christians are often hypocrites, and are imperfect persons who make many mistakes, then I agree with you. Still, I like my side of this argument: Christians have a solid history of evangelism which has made positive impacts on societies. That history includes current evangelical efforts.

  12. Occam's Beard Says:

    Connversion rates to Judasim in the Ancient World were pretty spectacular, so much so that the Roman Empire went to war against Israel.

    Are you sure about this? I’m a student of Roman history, and I’ve never heard of this. I’d read that the Romans crushed resistance to their rule in Judea for the same reasons they did so everywhere else that resisted: to avoid resistance spreading.

    Besides which, I’ve never heard of Judaism as a proselytizing religion.

  13. Curtis Says:

    OC, I am not sure of this, but think it possible.

    One thing I am sure of is that Israel was a peculiar problem to the Romans because they were so resistant to Roman programming.

    The Jews of Ceasar’s day are today’s tea partiers.


  14. Curtis Says:

    gcoth: did you eve realize that you choose a moniker with the word “goth” in it?

    OK, that aside, let’s discuss “Christianity.” I suppose what you mean by it is something different than Catholic? Right?

  15. Curtis Says:

    OC: yes, but it “started” with Judea.

  16. KLSmith Says:

    The only cure for promiscuity will be information such as that from the CDC concerning antibiotic resistant gonorrhea.

  17. Deeka Says:

    “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”….only poorer.

  18. gcotharn Says:

    If you want to discuss Christianity, email me at yahoo.com.

  19. vanderleun Says:

    To put it this way: “Over 50% of births to mothers under 30 are outside marriage.” is to be far too polite.

    Say rather, “Over 50% of children born to mothers under 30 are bastards.”

  20. foxmarks Says:

    Thinking a bit more deeply—or at least using different words—the problem is not “marriage” in socio-legal terms. It is the loss of integrity resulting from failure to uphold commitments.

    Take the arguments around homosexual marriage. There is little to no talk about how the commitment is intended to be eternal (more enduring than earthly life). The arguments are about a package of civil rights.

    Without a Higher Power of some sort standing in judgment, commitments are more easily broken. And when more easily broken, they are made with less deliberation.

    Having a child is not a Blessed Event, it is now an ordinary life activity. It’s like getting a tattoo.

    The specifics of the Higher Power are not the issue. It could be the Christian God or Ancestral Spirits. But without some perceived and believed force greater than another human’s opinion, all commitments lose force and value.

    Culture could certainly return to a supermajority of wedded parents. If this is a desirable goal, it cannot be achieved politically. It is a spiritual and personal challenge. If the spirit is served, the politics will not matter.

    Conversely, if the spirit is *not* served, politics will still not matter. Mortal gods (governors) inspire no awe and the decay will proceed until pervasive despair drives the people to seek something Higher.

    The culture has to hit rock bottom. Then it has a choice.

  21. Richard Aubrey Says:

    This number is pretty big for the entire society. It can’t count solely the generations of poverty in which we have seen this happening in the past. Some of these, perhaps most, of these women are not from a subculture in which alternatives to single-motherhood are absent.
    They looked at marriage and didn’t like it. That’s one thing. But to have a kid anyway brings up the question of what were they thinking? To qualify for free money, you have to be broke. They want to get broke so they can have a case number?????

  22. blert Says:

    Modern ‘family court’ ‘justice’ has propagated to the next generation.

    Meaning: that young men realize that it’s INSANE to marry.

    So, they don’t.


    The gals realize that it’s EASY to convince their beaus that they’re on the pill — and get knocked up.

    Yes’ I’ve seen this gambit played out in real time.

    At this point the new daddy is begging his lover to abort.


    And if she doesn’t, America has another state supported bastard.


    When a gal realizes that she can’t REALLY snag Mr. Perfect — he won’t commit — she can still bang him — and get a family going, anyway.


    As for hypergamy: I’ve lost count of the women who wanted to mate with yours truly — right behind hubby’s back — even when hubby was a friend of mine.

    The prospect of 4+ SD genes and super-memory was too much to resist.

    Such is life.


    BTW, Darwin’s law is working double overtime. HSS DNA is morphing like crazy as we speak.

    In the ghetto the ultra-pimps are regressing our self-domestication — with wilding genes ever favored.

    Whereas, among the elite, a DNA ‘island’ is rising out of the distribution. With the ability to find and mate with IQ peers — the tendency of offspring to revert to the mean is suppressed — very much in the manner of livestock crosses.


    Threshold IQs dictate what kind of society may attain a Nash equilibrium.

    For example: New York Jews living in government supported high density housing don’t have any of the problems that abound in virtually identical abodes with NAM populations.

    While culture matters — the real crux is that Ashkenazi Jews are approximately 2 standard deviations higher in ‘g’ testing — and have ‘self-domesticated’ to urban living for many, many generations. This goes deeper than culture. It gets embedded in the DNA.

    Permitting pimps/ thugs and psychos to knock up teens in the ‘hood is a massive strategic threat to civilization. Wilding genes can be promoted as assuredly as any other. Our planet is now too crowded to permit the raiding-warrior lifestyle. Those genes, so relevant 15,000 years ago, are now a profile for latent criminality.

    I hope that you’ve had the good fortune to never meet anyone whose grip on non-violent behavior is barely there.

    ( Like the fellow who accidentally had a corpse in his trunk when the state police pulled him over. Or the fellow who sold a hot vehicle to a co-worker, stole a serious amount of equipment, and went on the lam when the state police wanted him for defrauding the building inspector. Or the fellow who pistol-whipped a train engineer so as to steal his wallet — while in the cab! Yeah, it’s a Federal offense. )

    These cheery fellows would’ve been unable to spread their genes — until the now generation.

    ( We’re in some luck: the above players are childless. )

  23. Mr. Frank Says:

    All societies have an interest in who is having and raising children. One way of controlling this in traditional societies is by restricting pregnancy to married adults and controlling whom young women are permitted to marry. The father determines which males are suitable marriage partners for his daughter. This arrangement restricts childbearing to responsible adults. The father of the bride to be determines if a male has good “prospects.” This system is supported by gossip, shaming, ostracism, and stigmatizing, all mechanisms of social control.

    If you allow idiots to get pregnant, you end up with lots of idiots having babies and raising children.

  24. Occam's Beard Says:

    OC: yes, but it “started” with Judea.

    No, it didn’t.

    It started with the Roman conquest of Italy centuries earlier than that of Judea. By the time of the conquest of Judea, Italy was pretty much Romanized.

    Events roughly contemporary with the conquest of Judea were the conquests of Gaul (France and Switzerland; “Gallia est in partes tres divisa,” and all that), Spain, Tunisia, and vigorous attempts at conquering Germany. In each case, those resisting Roman rule were dealt with ruthlessly, as Vercingetorix could attest.

    Furthermore, Judea was not a particularly valuable piece of real estate (in contrast to, e.g., Egypt). The Romans had respect for the Jews as adherents of an ancient religion (the Romans respected anything of longstanding), but considered them obnoxious a-holes for not simply paying lip service to Rome and Roman gods, which is all the Romans wanted.

    Pay the Romans taxes (“render unto Caesar”), nominally acknowledge Roman gods (sacrifice something or other), and then you could do whatever you wanted.

    To the Romans, this seemed a more than reasonable proposition. To the Jews, it was heretical. Hence the war.

  25. Curtis Says:

    I kind of meant that the American spirit finds its locus in “fight the Romans,” Jews.

  26. Occam's Beard Says:

    I kind of meant that the American spirit finds its locus in “fight the Romans,” Jews.

    The American spirit finds its locus in Protestantism (I was raised as a Catholic, not a Protestant, btw), in classical liberalism, in fighting the British, and specifically in resisting the British aristocracy.

    Nothing to do with the Romans, or the Jews, who comprise a trivial fraction (1.7%) of the American population, the same as the Mormons. The Jews are, if anything, in the vanguard of our subjugation to socialism, as we’ve discussed here before. See, e.g., Alinsky, Saul; Stern, Andy; Axelrod, Daniel; Benjamin, Medea; Emanuel, Rahm; and last but not least, Soros, George. Mentioning any of these people in the same sentence with the American spirit is offensive in the extreme.

  27. Occam's Beard Says:

    I should clarify. By “Protestanism” above I was referring to the removal of the Pope and Catholic clergy from their role as intermediaries between man and God, i.e., the democratization of Christian theology.

    As an atheist, I have no dog in this fight, except for an accurate representation of history.

  28. expat Says:

    I had dinner with some friends last night. One gave me the latest news about her daughters: one with a young daughter is in the process of a messy, nasty divorce (not her desire); the other is not married but in a stable relationship and there is also a daughter. Both are educated and have very good jobs, as do the men, and both rely on their mother for help during school vacations or when the kids are sick. My friend said that both daughters blame our generation for pushing them into this work vs family situation. They have figured out that you can’t have it all, and I think both now prefer the mother role. I wonder what goals they will set for their daughters.

    I’ve thought a lot about how to strengthen the family, and I think back to my own childhood when the women stayed home and cooked and canned for their families. I can still remember the great aunt who made the milkcan full of fresh lemonade for our family reunions, and other aunts who contributed their specialty pies for get togethers. I also remember the hand-cranked ice cream days at one aunts’s home that still lacked an indoor toilet.

    I’ve come to believe that mealtimes are a real source of family stability. Aside from giving structure to the day, they also offer ways to teach practical skills to kids and to offer rites of passage for those who master those skills. Fathers see the bacon they brought home lovingly prepared to feed him and his children. The hormone-encouraged bonding between child and nurturer serves as a foundation for future morality because a child doesn’t want to disappoint the mother who fed him.

    If I were still in the states, I would try to find a smallish church with a kitchen and start a family cooking class evening. I’d stock a cookbook library, and give the kids who had learned to read and measure ingredients their own first cookbook and index file to collect their own recipes. I’d find a male science teacher to talk with the men about the science of cooking (Harold McGee), so that they could tell their own sons why eggs become hard when cooked. I’d find people from different countries to teach about their food and eating traditions and tie this into to some geography and agriculture lessons. It’s a fantasy, but I believe it would do more than lunch inspectors in kindergartens who confiscate turkey sandwiches.

  29. Parker Says:


    There are the beginnings of a revival, at least here in Iowa. Today I attended a 7 hour workshop on school gardens. Without going into great detail, its a voluntary community effort to develop gardens at schools in a 4 county area to involve elementary students and their families in growing and consuming produce raised on the school grounds. The primary goal is to give young students exposure to what is involved in producing food and learning how to prepare fresh vegetables and fruits. Another goal is to introduce animal husbandry by raising chickens and rabbits to provide eggs & meat (donated to county food crisis centers) and fertilizer.

    Over the last 3 years we have grown from 1 school garden to 12 school gardens; eventually we seek to have each and every school involved in gardening and small animal husbandry within a 4 county area . We are also seeking to promote gardens at local hospitals and elder care facilities. This is a hands on, local effort to do for ourselves and do for others while exposing kids to the concept that the food they eat requires capital, labor, and responsibility.

    It also teaches entrepreneurialism, as kids, based upon their input of labor, are allowed to keep for home consumption or sale at the local farmer’s market, their share of the crop based upon their hours of work.

    Small/local is the way to go. The way it should be is DC is important in cases where war has been declared. Otherwise, DC should have zero influence over what we do locally.

  30. expat Says:


    That’s great news. Maybe some writer/producer will get the idea to make a TV series involving families that participate in similar projects. We really need a popular culture that portrays these aspects of family life in an entertaining way.

  31. expat Says:

    OMT, there is a wonderful book series called Culinaria with volumes about various countries (Hungary, China, Italy, etc). The books cover the cuisine in the different regions of the countries and describe how some of the specialties are produced, eg, paprika in Hungary. The photos are gorgeous. Some of the school garden participants might find them interesting.

  32. Sergey Says:

    This statistics closely resembles situation in England before upper classes decided to remoralise the population and succeded in that, and thus Victorian Age began. The difference is that now US ruling elite not only does not support this moral and religious awakening but does everything possible to derail, demonize and isolate this movement, while liberals do everything to destroy the resudial public moral.

  33. Sergey Says:

    The proper eugenical measure would be compulsory sterilisation of all male prison population convicted in violent crimes, with sociopathic traits, which are easy to establish in psychiatric evaluation.

  34. M. Simon Says:

    Drug Prohibition is not helping.

    Women WILL have babies. If you eliminate enough males from the marriage pool a LOT of them will have the babies without fathers. It is programmed in: reproduce at all costs.

    And the core of this particular knot? Social Conservatives. Decrying the loss of traditional marriage at the same time egging on at least part of the cause.

    We are getting the society we deserve.

  35. M. Simon Says:

    Yes. Humpty can be put back together. First you end Drug Prohibition. Then work for 40 or 60 years to reverse the culture it spawned.

    Who has the guts for that? Very few.

  36. Mr. Frank Says:

    This trend away from marriage and toward unwed or divorced mothers has serious political implications. Women alone with children struggle economically and look to the government for support. Unmarried women tend to vote Democratic and support programs that give them money and free stuff. Obama benefits from this trend immensely. The irony is his children have two in home parents and they benefit greatly from that structure.

  37. Oldflyer Says:

    Inexplicable though it may be, it is becoming more accepted across all boundaries.

    Just learned that a niece, a college graduate who started her own environmental educational foundation, is pregnant. No interest in the father apparently, other than the obvious temporary engagement. There seems to be no concern for her future, or the child’s, on the part of anyone connected. Of course she has a step-sister who has been in the same situation for years, and the grandmother simply became a surrogate mother.

    Walking around a grocery store yesterday, I periodically encountered teen aged girls with a baby. I have no idea whether the baby belonged to one of them–although it appeared that it was only the the three of them. But, as I watched them. I had the thought that they were playing with an interactive doll. I suspect that is part of the attraction in the beginning. I also suspect that later on many mothers would gladly pass the doll on if they could.

    Like most these days I have had ample opportunity to observe the children of broken marriages among family members. I am not expert on these matters, but even a lay observer cannot miss the pain and dislocation among these children.

  38. Occam's Beard Says:

    This statistics closely resembles situation in England before upper classes decided to remoralise the population and succeded in that, and thus Victorian Age began.

    I look for this, actually, once our society has gorged itself to the full on hedonism. (Can’t possibly be long now, can it?) The revival probably won’t be led by the upper classes but by blacks, who have the cultural clout necessary to make it happen. Bill Cosby was just ahead of his time.

  39. ELC Says:

    @ Mr. Frank on February 19th, 2012 at 9:18 am.


  40. neo-neocon Says:

    Sergey: involuntary sterilization of that type cannot and should not be done in a free society.

    Actually, I’m not even sure it would work if it could be done. I don’t have time to look it up right now, but I believe that most sociopaths are not in prison. Plus, most sociopaths are born to normal parents.

    It even may be true that most sociopaths have normal children, although I’m not as sure about that.

  41. Don Carlos Says:

    I’m with Foster Friess and aspirin ‘tween the knees.
    Works for men, too.

  42. Curtis Says:


    A very spot on analysis that begins with dividing Republicans into Belmonters or Fishtowners. And Romney isn’t communicating to the Fishtowners a shared sense of dismay of cultural decay, such as this post presents. The analysis was written by the other Dalyrmple and he makes good use of the Belmont/Fishtown meme created by Charles Murray.

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