A little discussed problem in the United States, but one which causes most of society’s ills, is out of wedlock births. We know a lot about the statistics surrounding this, but little in the way of policy remedies have been promoted. There are a number of reasons for this. One is religious; certain religions would prefer that unwed moms have their babies. Some are racial; it is pretty well established that minorities have an even higher rate of unwed births than do whites. But anything that targets these populations is bound to meet with a thunderous political opposition.
First, let’s look at some of the problems these kids are likely to have. Well, we know that more than half the kids born to women under 30 are not within marriage. These kids are much more likely to be poor, fail in school, and have behavioral or emotional problems that plague them throughout their unproductive lives. Even when the parents live together outside of marriage, these living arrangements dissolve much more often than does marriage. When the kids grow up, they are much more likely to drop out of high school. Finding legitimate avenues of employment closed, they are much more likely to turn to crime and become incarcerated. Their entire lives they are likely to be a drain upon our nation’s resources, offering little to the rest of us in return.
When older or better educated people start families, they are much more likely to do so the traditional way; get married, then have kids. Those younger people who decide to have kids are much more likely to be poor already. Many of them come from single parent homes themselves, where the grandmothers-to-be work at awful jobs, when they work at all. They are unable to provide the emotional sustenance teenaged girls need. So, the girls find succor with any guy willing to give them a whirl. Once the guy finds out that she’s pregnant, often he moves onto the next girl willing to have sex to forget her futureless life. The girl, for a little while after the baby is born, finds herself an object of glamour among her friends. When this wears off is around the same time she becomes bored with the tediousness of actually raising a child. So, she then decides to breed again to try to regain some of her allure.
Why are girls so willing to bed the nearest guy? Well, part of the problem, I think, is the high rate of incarcerated minority men. More African-American men under 30 are part of the penal system than are in college. Thus, in minority communities, it is relatively unlikely that a girl will find a guy with some future outside of crime. Relationships thus become much more transitory than permanent. Their kids end up being neglected, or at best, lack the drive to succeed in school. Since the mother had little education, and no success dependent upon it, she does not consider this a pathway to achievement that more accomplished parents do. So, the kid might as well play basketball 6 hours per day rather than study.
This section turned out to be longer than I anticipated. Next, I’ll discuss some policy solutions that might mitigate this problem.