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November 26, 2006

All-time high for out-of-wedlock births

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 4 in 10 children are born out-of-wedlock—this is an all-time-high representing an almost fourfold increase since the 1960s. What’s up with this increase? Morehouse School of Medicine’s Dr. Yolanda Wimberly opines, “I think [having a child without being married] is more acceptable in society.” Well, yeaahh!

What is left unsaid is how this statistic is related to our changing attitudes about marriage. As J. Budziszewski once observed, the traditional understanding marriage was “a mutual and binding promise before God between one man and one woman to enter into a procreative and unitive bond with each other, exclusively, for life.”

However with the introduction of “no fault” divorce in 1969, the “promise before God” became a “contract before the State,” enabling parties to negotiate terms and terminate agreements as they saw fit. With the legalization of abortion in 1973, the growing and caring for children through the “procreative bond” soon gave way to the “mutual satisfaction” of adults.

In time marriage morphed into “a mutual and binding contract before the State between one man and one woman to enter into a unitive bond with each other for as long as mutually satisfying.” By 2001 the U.S. divorce rate doubled, fracturing one out of every two families into households mostly headed by a single-parent mother with small children.

This devolution also exacerbated another social problem. The strong marriage ethos prior to the 1960’s, meant that most pregnant women were either married or got married. But by 1992 the number of children born outside of marriage jumped from 11% to 30%. And now that rate is 37%. The tragedy is that these children and their mothers have three times the normal risk of poverty and domestic abuse—all because we began fiddling with an institution as old as humanity itself.

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Yes, that's a negative statistic, but birth out of wedlock is the lesser of two evils. Ideally, birth would always occur inside of marriage, but neither should sex occur outside of marriage, so out of wedlock births are much better than those women killing their children before birth to avoid social stigma, no?

Katharine Eastvold

A very good point. It's hard to walk the line between proclaiming the truth (that marriage is a sacred institution and that the birth of children should take place only within marriage) and showing mercy to unmarried pregnant women and to their unborn children, who are now at such risk of being aborted. There's no way to prove any sort of causal relationship, but it's interesting to note that the number of abortions in America has fallen, just as the proportion of out-of-wedlock births has risen.

Also a note about the relationship between divorce and out-of-wedlock birth. Unless the divorce occurs while the wife is pregnant, this relationship is not direct. The much more common and subtle relationship has to do with 20 and 30-somethings deliberately choosing to have sexual relationships and bear children outside of marriage because of their own bad experiences with marriages that ended in divorce. They don't want to put their children through the same thing, so they decide it's better just not to get married at all. (This logic also helps fuel the trend toward getting married later - which of course doesn't have to be a bad thing.)

What these children of divorce need to understand is that being born to unmarried parents is no better than being born to married parents who then divorce. If the parents split up, it's not legally a divorce, and thus there won't be a custody battle, but the effect on the children is the same: in most cases, one parent goes AWOL, and even if both parents remain attentive to the children, they are deprived of the model of a healthy relationship.


The only way to keep things clear is Law and Gospel, without stinting on either. Not by watering both down until all that is left are warm fuzzies. You can't soften one without diminishing the other.

With some 85% of Americans thinking of themselves as Christians, the Church needs to look to herself to see what is wrong.

I remember when evangelicals rejoiced that they divorced at a rate of only one in more than 500. But now nearly all pastors will "remarry" people who's spouses are still alive, something Jesus called adultery, as is recorded no fewer than five times in the N.T.

And the Catholic Church in America hands out annulments as if they were civil divorces or raffle tickets, instead of only where there was no valid marriage to begin with.

As long as these rebellious compromises with the culture continue, divorce, broken homes, abortion, and illegitimacy will continue at a high rate.

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