The Census Bureau’s new report on nonmarital births confirms what most of us probably expected: In areas with massive numbers of unemployed men, there are more nonmarital births. It looks like 57 percent of women who had less than a high school education give birth out of wedlock, and 68 percent of black women give birth out of wedlock.
Philip Cohen argues in The Atlantic that these statistics aren’t the problem itself, but they’re the symptom of a problem. Says Cohen, “If we addressed the problems of education and employment, is there any doubt family security and stability would improve, and with it the wellbeing of children and their parents?”
But leave it to readers to air out their misinformed opinions on The Atlantic website. Comments on the piece range from the rude:
“This is what happens when the society wants unlimited sexual freedom, but zero personal responsibility.”
To the outright ignorant:
“The author is saying that these people recognize they have few prospects, and that this lack makes raising kids more difficult, but that they actually go have kids anyway??? That doesn’t logically follow.”
Um, except it absolutely follows. A good friend of mine lives in a small Missouri town, population 400, with 98.97 percent of those people being white. There are so desperately few jobs to be had — gas stations, post office, and construction are just about the only options. You know what the teens do for entertainment? Drive around. Sit in people’s homes and smoke and drink. There isn’t a movie theater, or a downtown in which to stroll, or a mall, or a restaurant. Birth control is hard to come by, expensive, and stigmatized.
So let’s see. Lack of jobs means more free time. Lack of entertainment options means more boredom. Lack of education means no birth control. Free time + Boredom + No Birth Control, drumroll please!
You may wonder why these people don’t just leave. Seems like an obvious solution, right? That’s where you underestimate the force of family loyalty. When your parents and siblings and peers live in a small town like this and you grow up with that constant familiarity, it’s extremely difficult to forge out on one’s own. My friend is a college graduate, whip-smart, strong and ambitious, yet she moved back because she loves her parents and wants to be near them.
Listen, it’s a cliche but I really, truly think that until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes you can’t offer up blanket statements about their lives. Although I agree with Cohen’s assessment that we need to address problems of unemployment and education, I also worry that statistics like these only serve to perpetuate ignorant notions that if these poor, unwed mothers and fathers “just worked a little harder” their lives would be peachy keen.