Teen pregnancy is down, but child-bearing by unmarried 20-somethings is up. What’s going on? Kay Hymowitz, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Kelleen Kaye explain:
The knowledge economy and greater professional expectations have made higher education essential for middle-class life and integral to a personal sense of achievement for many women and men. This has meant changing not just the timing but the meaning of marriage. Once marriage was the foundation for adult identity, finances and family; now it has become a crowning achievement that only happens after a young adult is vocationally, psychologically and financially set.
But this model of marriage has left many less-educated, less well-off Americans without a viable life script. With manufacturing jobs and median male wages on the decline, less-skilled men are finding it ever harder to become financially “set.” Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that growing numbers of Middle Americans are postponing marriage or forgoing it altogether.
Meanwhile, many whose jobs do not give them membership in the professional class turn to a traditional source of young adult identity—parenthood—for meaning and satisfaction. Although nearly all unmarried young adults say it’s important to them to avoid pregnancy at the present moment, a third also say they would be at least a little happy if they did find themselves pregnant. And so young women often drift “unintentionally” into parenthood with men whom they believe are not good enough to marry or not ready for it.
The sad irony is that the unmarried 20-something parent is often both responding to and helping to produce the economic and social troubles now enveloping much of the country. Children born to stable, married parents are more likely to graduate from high school and from college, well-equipped to thrive in a knowledge economy and, in turn, more likely to marry and start their own families on a stable footing. The converse is true for children from homes marked by instability. Without a stable family, their chances of moving up the education and income ladder are stunted, which—in turn—reduces their odds of getting married as adults. [Wall Street Journal, March 15]