Growing Crisis: Over 40 Percent of Babies Are Born Outside of Marriage in the US

I want to discuss a very alarming new study that indicates that over 40% of children are born outside of marriage in this country. This situation is growing very serious and needs to be addressed in our parishes and homes. Here is a brief excerpt of the article:

The number of children born outside marriage in the United States has increased dramatically to four out of ten of all births. Figures show that 41 per cent of children born in 2008 did not have married parents – up from 28 per cent in 1990. Researchers have concluded that although Christian values still play an important role in American society, public attitudes have changed. Having a child out of wedlock does not carry the stigma and shame it once did, they say.

The study also found that in America there is a declining number of teenage mothers and rising numbers of older parents….

The U.S. research, taken from census reports and health statistics by the Pew Research Centre, also outlines a trend of couples in western societies marrying later in life and delaying parenthood until they can afford it.

The share of births to unmarried mothers had increased most among white and traditionally Catholic Hispanic women.

The article can be read here: 41% Of Children Born Outside of Marriage in US

The numbers are really quite striking and increase from 28% to 41% in just 18 years. Note that the article lays the matter clearly at our feet, fellow Catholics citing that we have shown the greatest increase in unmarried mothers.

As a Church we have to do a better job of addressing this very serious matter. It would seem that we should address it by re-emphasizing some of the following things:

  1. Fornication and cohabitation are serious sins – We need to teach and re-emphasize that fornication (pre-marital sex) and adultery are very serious sins. They are mortal sins and,  if one commits them and dies unrepentant,  they are excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not the opinion of some grouchy old priest or Victorian parents it is the clear and consistent testimony of Scripture both in the Old and New Testaments. I have written on the Biblical teaching here before and you can read it here: Sober, Serene and Scriptural about Sex. I have also posted a PDF document that summarizes the Biblical teaching about pre-marital sex here:  Biblical Teaching on Pre-Marital Sex. To be sure, some commit the sin of fornication in weakness but have recourse to confession and strive to master what is surely a strong passion. That is commendable. Yet to be so bold as to live together outside of marriage hardly demonstrates a contrition or a firm pupose of amendment. We must simply be clear  that it is boldly sinful to cohabitate.
  2. Fornication and cohabitation undermine marriage – We need to demonstrate that cohabitation and fornication undermine marriage.  Sex is a gift from God to the married to strengthen the love,  loyalty and marriage of man and women. Since they share a great blessing and pleasure together their bonds are strengthened and their union encouraged. From this shared love and pleasure their children come forth quite literally as a fruit of their love. But when fornication and cohabitation and other sexual misbehavior becomes widespread and acceptable in a culture, one of the great and unique benefits of marriage (sexual intimacy) that serves as a kind of glue and incentive for marriage is thus removed.  That this true is demonstrated by the sky-rocketing of rates of divorce and further cohabitation.
  3. Fornication and Cohabitation give scandal– Many people today think that giving scandal merely means to shock someone. But that is incorrect. To give scandal means to cause some one to fall by encouraging them or leading them to sin. One of the most scandalous aspects of fornication and  cohabitation is that they NO LONGER cause shock. This means that this bad behavior is now having deep effects by robbing people of their shock and shame. It is very wrong to contribute to something that might cause my brother or sister to fall. Giving bad example or contributing to the notion that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex helps to lead others to this behavior. In the end we will be held to account for causing scandal or contributing to it unless we repent.
  4. Fornication and Cohabitation are an injustice to children– Many who engage in pre-marital sex say they will contracept (a sin in itself)  and so no children will be affected. But that is simply not true. First, as already noted, promiscuity contributes to the overall undermining of marriage which surely harms children. But more specifically, the fact is  that high numbers of fornicators and cohabitors DO conceive and this leads to higher rates of abortion and also single motherhood. It is a blessing if a child not aborted but it remains true that children born out of wedlock are born into less than ideal conditions. God has set forth that the best environment to rear and raise children is stable, faithful, heterosexual marriage. A child is best raised by a father and mother who are consistently present and who give complimentary witness. A father contributes to development in a way a mother cannot. A mother contributes to development in a way that a father cannot. To engage in risky and sinful behavior that places children at greater risk of abortion or incomplete homes is an injustice. We don’t often think of sexual sins as sins of injustice but they are. In the end, it is the children who pay.

You will no doubt wish to add to the list or perhaps nuance what I have said. But in the end I think we have to be firm and clear about the wrongful nature of this sort of sexual misbehavior. I will say that the Church was not as clear as she should have been with me when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. But I can assure you the fallen angel who is the devil, and our fallen culture ARE clear as to what they think.

It is tragic to think that almost half of the Children born in this country are born into situations that are far from ideal. It is even more tragic that this does not have to be. Many think we really can’t turn this thing around. I disagree. The example of a concerted effort at eliminating smoking has had significant impact. If we come together and agree and are firm and clear I am sure we can make a difference. Even just taking the PDF document on Scriptural teaching I have produced above  and sharing it with you teenagers can help. But we need to do more and better. Things are at a critical stage just now.

For further data and research read here: Child Trends Data  (NB Though the report written in 2001 indicates out of wedlock births had leveled off, that assertion has been superceded by the more recent data which shows it has now again spiked).

This video depicts an important parental connection in helping young people develop a proper notion of sexuality and how it relates to marriage:

34 Replies to “Growing Crisis: Over 40 Percent of Babies Are Born Outside of Marriage in the US”

  1. I agree with your comments, but I will also add that I do know of single parent families that are happy and getting along quite well. The culture today and pre-marital sex is extremely complicated. Today’s culture makes it extremely difficult to say “No.” I’m not saying that that is necessarily an excuse, as there are many people who don’t have pre-marital sex, but not everyone was raised Catholic or in homes that expressed that pre-marital sex is quite a large issue. The culture today pretty much represents pre-marital sex as a norm, as you have mentioned. At my age (22) cohabitating is quite common among people I know. However, what I also know about cohabitating is that it almost never leads to happy endings. Regarding sex in relationships, as I’ve mentioned before on other posts, it pays to be prude. That way, you can weed out the people that just want emotionless sex and get to know the ones that want to get to know you in a less personal way.

    Regarding smoking, it’s less of a personal habit than pre-marital sex. Sex involves emotions and feelings that smoking doesn’t have, thus smoking is far easier to eliminate. I’m not saying it will be impossible, but to turn the culture around (especially since Europe is quite liberal as well) will be a very difficult feat.

    1. Single parent families may be “happy” and “getting along very well” but I can tell you as the child of a single parent household those children are MISSING something and what they are missing will not really be felt until they are old enough to be of marrying age. Part of what they are missing is the necessary example married parents provide of how to be married, stay married, and work things out when the going gets tough as it naturally will. Part of what they are missing is the example needed of how to relate to the absentee parent. That’s crucial to a child’s development and his or her ability to relate to the gender of the absent parent. Such problems don’t show up as strongly in childhood but I guarantee you they will begin to manifest themselves in adulthood.

      1. Very true. I don’t always see all sides to everything, so thanks for adding this on. I agree, when something’s going on with the family, no matter how happy that family may appear, it probably does affect the child either in childhood, or later in adulthood.

  2. Thou shall not arrive to your 7th birthday without knowing there is a God

    Thou shall not be in middle school without an idea of what God wants from you

    Thou shall not be ignorant about how to resist the anxiety of a temptation.

    Thou shall know that what you saw at home is what you’d be tempted to believe under anxiety

    Thou shall believe that God’s ways are sweeter and wiser than the ways of consumerism

    These addendums work in the cases where the role models necessary are not present in the lives of these young people

  3. Msgr., thank you for speaking up and for your courage. More priests should speak like this but they don’t, at least in my parish. Silence from the pulpit is sometimes interpreted as approval, especially from people looking to excuse their own sinfulness. Priests are afraid to speak out b/c their parishoners will be upset. I in turn, am upset b/c they remain silent out of fear and in their silence, continue to allow people to continue in error. In my parish, as long as it’s not controversial or it’s on the social gospel, then it’s okay. No one speaks about the specific sins we commit and excuse everyday. The last one to do so was a visiting priest from Africa. He talked about abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc. People were upset and walked out. I couldn’t thank him enough. I think, it’s an act of love, if by getting people to examine their own lives, you get them to repent, rather than to make everyone feel good but letting them continue in error.

  4. Having a child out of wedlock does not carry the stigma and shame it once did, they say. The study also found that in America there is a declining number of teenage mothers and rising numbers of older parents . . .

    This latter point is quite interesting. In the past, one would expect nearly all non-marital births to be by teens and “accidental.” Not so anymore. The number of older women, including up into their 40s, having children outside of marriage, and frequently fairly purposeful, is increasing quite fast. And in places like Hollywood, families started by unmarried couples is the norm. But even outside of unmarried couples, there is a rise in the incidence of single women purposely having children, if only by adoption, as they hear the tick, tick, tick, of their biological clock.

    Thus, it would seem that a large part of the increase is coming from the baby-boom generation and the Gen-Xers, who grew up during or in the wake of the sexual revolution, which among other things, has devastated the ability of so many people to establish lasting relationships and marriages. Even the “good” and the chaste find themselves, despite their best efforts, involuntarily single well into their 30s and 40s. But these people nonetheless have that built-in need to “be fruitful and multiply.”

    Again, many of these new non-marital births are to women of older generations, not the young, so we might find the phenomenon diminishing in future years, regardless of what we do or do not do about it, as those generations pass away.

    Indeed, there is actually some good news in these numbers regarding the younger generations. And some good news in the increase in high-profile unmarried couples starting families. And that good news is what appears to be a much more positive attitude toward children. That is, babies are less likely to be viewed as unwanted parasites that must be exterminated in the womb. Even if young people find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, rather than expecting it, they are less likely to abort these days. And that is a good thing.

    So much of the pro-abortion and pro-contraception mentality is simply anti-child. If young people today see an unmarried couple with children and see that as “normal,” they might also see that as pro-child, as children being a good, not an evil. And that is a step in the right direction.

  5. Several years ago I overheard a teenaged girl telling her mother that a classmate had gone into labor while at school. She was as matter-of-fact as if she were reporting what she had for lunch that day.

    Had I noticed a pregnant classmate when I was in high school (early ’80s) I’m not sure that I’d’ve been able to tell my mother about it. I would have been horrified into speechlessness.

  6. I have two cohabitating siblings, both of whom were actively trying to avoid pregnancy, who both now have children on the way. Our culture is infused with the lie of effective birth control to prevent or delay the responsibilities that come with sex. Given how often it fails, makes you wonder how often abortion is used as birth control. It’s really sad

  7. I suspect many of the problems our society faces today, including drugs, gangs, and a declining population are related to the fact that we have lost our regard for the sanctity of marriage. Given that most people’s vocation is that of marriage, shouldn’t marriage be discussed more frequently in sermons? It seems to be mentioned when the Gospel of the Wedding at Cana is read, but even then it is not often given an in depth discussion. Recently at our local cathedral’s bookstore, I noticed they had Pope John Paull II’s book on the Theology of the Body. It is quite a volume! How much of that knowledge will make its way into the congregation? And with regards to sin, I wish that the topic sin were given a more thorough analysis. I think we all know the basics–what the catalog of sins is, but there is less discussion of how sin affects us as human beings, in our selves and in our relationships to others, physically and spiritually. If people knew sin more for what it really was, perhaps there would be less of it.

  8. Great article. There are so many definitions in today’s society of marriage and family, no wonder our children are all mixed up. Gay couples that raise children, single men and women that raise children, divorce and on and on. I feel bad for this generation. Children for the most part imitate there parents and there environment. They truly are victims and of no fault of there own. So the cycle continues. We need a miracle.

  9. Why?
    easy, single moms are supported by Surrogate Husband who provides them with
    -gov’t-subsidized transportation
    -gov’t-subsidized park district recreation
    -gov’t-subsidized home ownership
    -WIC food vouchers
    -earned income credit
    -child care deductions
    -section 8 housing
    -grants to attend liberal arts diploma mills

    Here’ the story of the women who are leading our culture:

    –young Girl Dreamer breeds with either 1)unemployed super sexy Defiant Dude. or 2) boring low-income employed Nice Guys.
    -Girl Dreamer has DD’s baby named Bastard Boy
    -Bastard Boy has 1/2 of Defiant Dude”s genes, so by age 10, Bastard Boy is defiant. He resents Dreamer Girl’s new live-in boyfriend and the other half-sibs and home-sharing Bastard Cousins. He wishes he had a bedroom of his own.
    -Dreamer Girl can not manage Bastard Boy’s anger.
    -Dreamer Girl calls Surrogate Husband for help. Surrogate Husband has two arms 1) local police, and 2) mental health services to therapize BB’s Oppositional Defiant Disorder and his Conduct Disorder.
    -Bastard Boy sent off to regionalized inpatient care where he meets many many many other Bastard Boys.
    -Bastard Boy grows up to breed with another Dreamer Girl Spawn and more bastard babies are made.

    -Meanwhile, boring low-income Nice Guy, would love to have a family, but he can not out-earn Surrogate Husband who fills Dreamer Girl’s purse with goodys. He is discarded as a father.

    Unless The Church unapologetically addresses topics like perverse financial incentives, slutty teen girls, and the role of Surrogate Husband, The Church is just another impotent player.

    1. I agree that government programs can insulate people from the full consequences of their choices and provide DISincentives for more appropriate behavior. However, I don’t believe that welfare and other government subsidy programs are primarily at fault for the increase in out-of-wedlock births. Even if they WERE the primary source of the problem, getting rid of the programs would create a whole set of NEW problems.

      Should we really take a “too bad for you” attitude for the children of “Dreamer Girls?” It wasn’t they who chose to be born out of wedlock to parents unable to provide for their physical or emotional needs. Would you prefer that their lives be snuffed out before birth? Would you prefer that they shiver on the street? Would you prefer that they starve?

      You vastly overestimate the availability and effectiveness of behavioral-health services and social support services. There have been several horrific cases here in the DC area that clearly illustrated the lack, such as the woman who murdered her four daughters, and left their bodies in their beds for months. Or the woman who murdered her two adopted daughters, and stored their bodies in a freezer. Or the teens who murdered a beloved middle-school principal. “Surrogate Husband” in the form of the local government was wholly unable to help these people, these human beings.

      I can be as cynical as the next person (an occupational hazard of being a human resources professional) but even I don’t believe the “welfare queen” is the norm. I doubt anyone thinks “I want to grow up to live in a ratty apartment in a dangerous neighborhood where I hope my children can get by with just eating school lunches.”
      No one sets out to be a screw-up.

    2. Good analysis here from you both though i would have preferred less edgy language from JZ 🙂 The Surrogate Husband (govt) is surely at the root of a lot of the breakdown. When the Govt started getting onto the business of chairty the Church did protest (Read The Tragedy of American Compassion by Olasky). But sadly over the years the Church has just settled into the long wonter of Govt intrusion into what should be the domain of the churches and private sector. Most analysis in the Church these days centers on getting the govt to do more. I agree we should rethink this dramatically.

  10. and let’s add the role of “bad credit”. when one of a couple has bad credit, we see another financial advantage to stay unmarried. They can stay afloat when one of them maintains good credit. The single mom who painted my kitchen stated her boyfriend has bad credit, and she would not get married unless she made $100,000/yr.

    Employed men must make at least $40,000/yr. to out-earn Surrogate Husband.

  11. Might I offer a different perspective, that this is actually a good sign. Obviously premarital sex is bad, but the fact remains that over 90% of people do it, and although it is higher than it was a few decades ago, a majority of people did the same thing during our grandparents generation (it just wasn’t as openly talked about as it is now, but was rather swept under the rug and had a blind eye turned to it). With that said, the fact that unwed BIRTHS have increased as a percentage, more than likely indicates that the number of abortions has significantly decreased. My generation certainly is more sexual, but thankfully we are also more prolife than previous generations.

    1. Not sure if I agree that premarital sex was a common as you think it was “back in the day” I am suure it happened but with far less fequency. Of course a factor was that people married much earlier, often right out of High School. By 20 most everyone was already married and having kids. That too had a lot to do with less prmiscuity then.

  12. Anon from NY, you described it just as I experience it. The fact that priests are afraid is so true.
    I hope this will improve, but don’t see it any time soon.

  13. Cynthia BC dreams on:
    Should we really take a “too bad for you” attitude for the children of “Dreamer Girls?” It wasn’t they who chose to be born out of wedlock to parents unable to provide for their physical or emotional needs. Would you prefer that their lives be snuffed out before birth? Would you prefer that they shiver on the street? Would you prefer that they starve?

    How limited imagination you have. What have Dreamer Girls done through out all history and all cultures to care for their babies born out of marriage? They would not let them shiver or starve. Instead, clever DGs would 1) seriously impress upon the FOB to provide, 2) return to family of origin to provide, or 3) find a sugar daddy to provide. Your thinking seems stuck in welfare mode (ex.: welfare queen) If you read again, for comprehension, you’ll notice that Dreamer Girl pockets lots of her goodies because she is employed. Specifically, Surrogate Husband provides her with earned income credit, child care credits, Medicaid, while she is employed. In my county, 50% of babies are born to single moms, which makes perfect sense when one notes that Medicaid maternity benefits extend to a woman with income of $36,000, and the average income here is $35,000. Low-income employed boring Nice Guy gets discarded.

    Cynthia, your citation of horrific cases are off topic. The question is WHY does Dreamer Girl chose Surrogate Husband over boring low-income Nice Guy?

    Marriage is only for the financial elites.

  14. JZ-

    I read through your post a couple of times, as I thought there were several good points there. I support a group that offers no interest loans to women to develop businesses in their countries, and the stories of what many achieve is impressive. They are eager for opportunities for there is no government dependency program available to them.

    There is a culture of dependency that has grown for several generations now, where the ways and means of living off the govt. is passed down- like a family recipe or something. I often wonder if the women who have learned how to navigate the system to maximize what they get from it were to employ those abilities to another venture- wow, imagine!

  15. Since this is a Catholic blog I am more interested in ideas for solutions than in blaming. I agree with Cynthia that I will not suffer to see the children/mother starve on the streets and I see JZ’s point that the solutions of our social institutions may be promoting the risky behavior. If I may use a metaphor, since “God consumerism bestows its graces on those who make better USE of what is available (the government money and the sexy dude and cheap labor) it appears the issue at hand is a clashing of cultures -the culture of the Living God vs. the culture of the fake gods. To rethink dramatically the whole enchilada we need to hear from experts from all fields and avoid settling for what it’d be easier and popular. We have to come up with a well balanced SACRIFICIAL LOVE attitude. The decline of Christian values in our society is a very complicated mess. Incidentally – aren’t the Mass Media executives responsible for part of the Christian values decline?

  16. @Maggie and Cynthia,

    You claim you will not tolerate seeing babies starve or shiver. I’ll repeat: with no Surrogate Husband, the resourceful Dreamer Girls over time and cultures have found ways to feed and clothe their babies. Use your imagination. If you can only imagine Surrogate Husband, then you are also a victim of twisted dependency class.

    Yet, you tolerate babies born into bastardhood for 40% of American babies. These kids are statistically destined for prison, teen-pregnancy, school dropout, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. A baby born into an unmarried couple is 15 times more likely to see dissolution of those parents by age 5 , compared to a baby born to a married couple.

    My solution is to stop all Surrogate Husband support for Dreamer Girl NOW.

    Marriage is only for the financial elites.

  17. Here is a story I heard awhile ago. Now I am sure I have changed it because of my memory. However this is the jist of it.

    There once was a child walking on the seashore and on the seashore were countless starfish that had been washed up from the storm the night before. The child walked up to a starfish and threw it into the ocean, and then the next starfish and so on… Someone was watching the child and said “What are you doing? You can’t help them all. There are too many and not enough time.” The child replied, “You’re right I can’t help them all, but I can help this one” as he threw the starfish in the ocean and continued with his work.

    So what is the moral of the story? Life is a BIG seashore and there are many stranded starfish who need our help. Do we turn away because the job is too big? Do we make ugly statements that don’t help anyone except belittle them and rob them of their dignity? or, Do we let our light shine for the world to see even though it seems hopeless?

    Our job is big, with many enemies to fight against, but the only way to change it is one person at a time.

    Francis Cardinal George stated, “Faith doesn’t grow until we give it away.”

  18. @A.
    Do we make ugly statements that don’t help anyone except belittle them and rob them of their dignity?

    Is it “ugly” to speak the truth? or is it ugly to ignore the truth?, to speak in euphemisms?, to believe in one’s one little fantasies while 40% of babies are subjected to the bastardhood life, and it’s consequences?

    If the truth is ugly, so be it.

  19. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    Thank you for speaking the truth. The truth is that children need the love of both parents in order to reach their full potential and glorify God in the way that God intended. Yes, just as a plant can still bloom under modest conditions, so too can the human child survive under the most dire of circumstances. However, if knowing God, loving God and serving God in this world, so that we can be happy with God in Heaven is our purpose, and in so doing we reach our full potential, than why wouldn’t we want to provide each child with “all” the tools needed to reach this goal? If we do not provide the best of circumstances in raising a child, than who suffers?

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