Record percentage of U.S. children born out of wedlock

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The percentage of children born out of wedlock in the United States has reached a record-high, a new government report shows. One family expert, crediting the trend to the belief that independence is good even for children and mothers, warned of the “feminization of poverty” it causes and said the Church should respond by revealing “the beauty of love.”

The U.S. National Vital Statistics Report for April 2010, produced by the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, said the number and percent of births to unmarried women “each increased to historic levels.”

“The total number of births to unmarried women increased about one percent from 1,714,643 in 2007 to 1,727,950 in 2008,” the report states. “Births to unmarried women increased in each age group aged 25 and older but declined for unmarried teenagers and women in their early twenties.”

About 40.6 percent of children were born to an unmarried mother in 2008, an increase from 39.7 percent the previous year. While teenage mothers accounted for 52 percent of extramarital births in 1975, they made up only 22 percent in 2008. More than 6 in 7 births to teenagers were non-marital.

Sixty-one percent of births to women aged 20-24 were out of wedlock. One in three births among women aged 25-29 years were to unwed mothers.

For non-Hispanic whites the percentage of births to unwed mothers was 28.6 percent, for Hispanics it was 52.5 percent, and for non-Hispanic blacks 72.3 percent.

Stephanie Coontz, professor of family studies at Evergreen State College and director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, recently told the Washington Times that the proportion of unmarried births can go up whenever the number of married births decreases. In her view, the real story may be the decline in the birth rate among married couples.

The latest government report also showed the American birth rate dropping below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.

EWTN News asked Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute for Marriage and Family, about the latest report and the consequences of the social trends it documents.

In a Friday e-mail, she said out of wedlock childbearing is “one of the leading causes of poverty among both women and children.”

“It is the major cause of the ‘feminization of poverty,’” she continued.

Asked about the social and personal factors she sees in the trend, Morse commented:

“Women don't think men are necessary. Therefore, they are unwilling to go to the effort required to be in a relationship with a man.”

The decline of the married birth rate in relation to the unmarried birth rate is “an old story” dating back to the 1970s, she explained. However, without looking more closely at the data, she could not say whether the decline in the married birth rate could significantly account for the record-high figures.

EWTN News asked what society and the Catholic Church could do to encourage people to marry before having children.

“Emphasize the beauty of sexual differences and complementarity,” she recommended. “People are attracted to goodness more than they are repelled by evil.

“People have come to believe that independence is a good, even for children and mothers. This is a false belief that people are acting on, in spite of the pain it causes them, because they have been convinced that it is a good thing. Reveal the beauty of love. The Church must never give up its romanticism!” she insisted.

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