Rise in Out-of-Wedlock Births Is Bad News for America’s Kids

By Jeffery M. Leving and Glenn Sacks

The recent announcement from the National Center for Health Statistics that the out-of-wedlock birth rate is at an all-time high is bad news for America’s children. It would be easier to understand, perhaps, if it were naive teenage mothers who were creating this trend. However, according to the new NCHS study, the trend–which is creating 1.5 million babies a year–is being driven by adult women, many of whom are in their 30s and 40s and are choosing single motherhood. They should know better.

The rates of the four major youth pathologies–teen pregnancy, teen drug abuse, school dropouts and juvenile crime–are tightly correlated with fatherlessness, often more so than with any other socioeconomic factor, including income and race. The research is clear that children need fathers, not simply as breadwinners, but also for the valuable parenting–and fathering–they provide.

For example, a long-term study of teen pregnancy rates was conducted in the United States and in New Zealand and published in the journal Child Development. The study concluded that a father’s absence greatly increases the risk of teen pregnancy. The researchers found that it mattered little whether the child was rich or poor, black or white, born to a teen mother or an adult mother, or raised by parents with functional or dysfunctional marriages. What mattered was dad.

There are various popular interpretations of the out-of-wedlock trend. One is to blame men who, we are told, routinely impregnate na?ve, hapless women and then abandon them. However, given modern women’s birth control and reproductive options, when women have children outside of marriage, it’s usually because they want to.

Nevertheless, our society often goes to great lengths to see unwed mothers as victims. The highly-publicized Fadia Ward case provides a good example. Ward founded to publicly shame "deadbeat dads" and "take their manhood away." She has appeared on ABC News Now, Black Entertainment Television, BBC Radio,Good Day Philadelphia, and many others, and has been portrayed as a heroine in numerous newspaper articles. Few have challenged her assertion that she bears no responsibility for her situation, even though she had four children by four different men by the age of 27.

Another explanation for the rise in single motherhood is that it’s a symbol of women’s increasing independence and empowerment. According to this view, it’s hard to find a good man, so women are justified in having kids on their own, and we should be happy that yesterday’s unfair stigma against out-of-wedlock births is gone.

Two of the leading proponents of this view are Rosanna Hertz, Ph.D., author of the new bookSingle by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women Are Choosing Parenthood Without Marriage and Creating the New American Family, and Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., who last year released Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men.

Drexler portrays father-absent homes–particularly "single mother by choice" homes–as the best environments for raising boys. Hertz concludes that "intimacy between husbands and wives [is] obsolete as the critical familial bond." For her, fathers aren’t necessary–in fact, "what men offer today is obsolete."

Our children would beg to differ. Studies of children of divorce confirm their powerful desire to retain strong connections to their fathers. For example, an Arizona State University study of college-age children of divorce found that the overwhelming majority believed that after a divorce "living equal amounts of time with each parent is the best arrangement for children."

Famed athlete Bo Jackson provided a heart-wrenching depiction of a child’s father hunger in his autobiography, the first chapter of which is devoted to the father he didn’t have. Jackson explained that as a child, when he wanted something, "I could beat on other kids and steal…[but] I couldn’t steal a father. I couldn’t steal a father’s hug when I needed one."

There are some unwed mothers who really are victims. As a society we’re very aware of the ways some men misuse their power, particularly in the family. Now, however, it’s time to take a hard look at the ways some women misuse their power. Needlessly creating fatherless babies is one of them.