The New York Times discovers unmarried childbearing and recognizes it as…trouble

by Ryan Streeter on February 21, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Two-thirds of all children are born to women under the age of 30. And of these, more than half our born to unmarried women.

This, as I’ve been writing lately, is not a “social phenomenon” or a “soft issue.” It’s directly related to our future economic vitality as a country. It’s directly related to the future educational outcomes of our children. It’s directly related to how many prisons we build in 20 years. More and more children with unmarried parents, according to every bit of reliable data out there, means more and more trouble – primarily for them, but by extension, for all of us. No one wins.

The New York Times ran a story on the decline of marriage over the weekend, which was nearly as shocking as the data in article, as this topic is typically considered off-limits in high-rent blue districts. The article not only cited the disturbing trends in unmarried childbearing, but also cites the disadvantages of cohabitation, or living together, as an alternative to marriage.

The Times’ article follows an 0p-ed by Ruth Marcus two months ago as evidence that the liberal elite is starting to wake up to the gravity of the issue (the Times piece says that this issue hasn’t gotten that much attention until the recent publication of Charles Murray’s book, which isn’t exactly true – a number of writers have been covering the issue for awhile now, something I’d have expected Jason DeParle to have acknowledged). About the reality of the data on unmarried childbearing, Marcus wrote:

Rhapsodizing about the benefits of marriage may have a conservative air — promoting marriage among welfare recipients was a big deal during the George W. Bush administration — but you don’t have to be a conservative to bemoan these statistics.

And bemoan we must. These two charts from the Times article show (1) the age demographic and (2) the education demographic, both of which spell long-term trouble for an America that, in Murray’s terms, is “coming apart.”

These data on education’s role in preserving traditional marriage are well-known to those of us who follow these trends, and yet I’ve still not seen an in-depth assessment of this issue – namely, what is it about going to college (or coming from the kind of family that promotes college) that results in higher marriage rates? Why do college-educated women, who imbibe the waters of higher education’s skepticism toward marriage, and many of whom could actually afford to be single moms, end up getting and staying married?

Now that would be an interesting question to see the Times take on.