Education and out-of-wedlock children…

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Those who worry about the state of marriage in the United States might want to read a recent Brookings Institute study.  “The Marginalization of Marriage in Middle America” examines the  marital status of the 51% of young adults between 25 and 34 years of age who have completed  high school but haven’t earned a college degree.



According to study, college-educated Americans generally marry before the birth of their first child and divorce levels among this demographic have fallen to levels comparable  with the early 1970s.  For college educated American women, the likelihood of having a child outside of marriage is 6%.  For moderately educated American women (finished high school and may or may not have attended some college or professional school), the likelihood of having a child outside of marriage is 44% of births.  But, among  women who did not finish high school, it’s 54%.

The findings indicate that this increase in births outside marriage correlates with higher levels of  cohabitation, not the cultural and economic factors that are most oftentimes cited as making it necessary for couples to cohabit today.  The report cites 3 cultural shifts that have changed the decision-making process:

  1. Attitudes towards sexual activity and childbearing outside marriage  have changed. Combined with the introduction of contraception, cohabitation and childbearing outside of marriage are more accepted than in the early 1970s.
  2. There has been a significant decline in religious participation  among people in Middle America.  Compared to the 1970s,  church attendance among this group has dropped from 40% to 28%.
  3. Since the early 1970s and the introduction of “no-fault divorce,” the jurisprudence affecting family life has been re-oriented, from being  supportive of marriage to emphasizing individual rights.


The problem is that the relationship among cohabiting couples is inherently unstable.  65%  of children living in a household where the adults are cohabiting will see that relationship break up before they are 12 years old.  This compares to 24% for children born to intact marriages.  These children are also 3 times more likely to be abused.  Drug use,  problems at school, and miscreant behavior are also more common among these children.

These findings shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In fact, they parallel those of the folks at Smart Marriages and what they have been arguing for almost two decades.




Perhaps the best explanation for all of this is the change in jurisprudence.  Marriage is now a “choice” rooted in individual rights rather than selfless love, fidelity, and trust.  Where those are absent, how likely is it that a marriage or a family will be healthy?



To read the Brookings Institution report, click on the following link:

To learn about the research conducted by the folks at Smart Marriages, click on the following link:

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  1. There’s actually some positive news in there, at least within a segment of the population. The way you see it depicted, it seems like everyone is a child of divorce.

    Not that these overall levels are good. You know what I mean.

  2. How is it that selfless love, fidelity and trust can be restored?

    I do not see this as likely. The damage done is very deeply ingrained throughout society.

    I do not think the waiting to have a family among the more well-educated has much to do with selfless love, fidelity and trust. I think it has more to do with being able to “afford” a child. This is not cause for optimism. It is desperately trying to find some good news in order to build some hope.

    There is little support for marriage today. There is little support for the effort it takes to be a family who hangs tough in thick and thin. There is little help when help is sought other than for a quick fix. I think because many of us are “max’d out” trying to keep our head above water.

    Were I in a position to be married, I would not do it. I would help our children as best I could to raise their families. I am glad I grew up when I did. The young people have their work more than cut out for them.

    May God give them the grace to work at improving the mess we have left for them to sort out.

  3. “It has more to do with being able to ‘afford’ a child.”

    I suspect the same thing. Likewise I suspect the lower rate of marriage among the college educated has to do with the notion that a couple must attain near absolute financial and employment security AND that they (or their parents) must be able to pay for a big wedding before they can even consider marriage.

    I am, however, kind of surprised at the sharp drop in church attendance among the middle class and poor as compared to the college educated… you’d think it would be the other way around — after all aren’t the lower classes supposed to be the ones “bitterly clinging” to their religion because it’s all they have?

    Or could it be that the high rate of divorce and cohabitation among the middle class and poor in turn makes them less inclined to attend church because they know their lifestyle will not be accepted? Or could irregular work and transportation schedules among the working poor (e.g., having to work weekends or Sundays to make ends meet) have something to do with it?

  4. Good points at the end Ms. Krewer.

    Many people work on Sunday now and have multiple jobs to make ends meet.

    However, my personal experience and from knowing many divorced people is that the old “stigma” is gone, except in rare cases and then it seems to be more of personal issue than a corporate one. The opposite is much more true.

  5. Maybe the causation is the other way around? They don’t start or finish college because they had a child! Makes you wonder how many of those that did finish college made it through unscathed, or more scathed due to an abortion.

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