Raising Children Out Of Wedlock Officially The New Normal

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marriageThose of you who have chuckled at Rebecca’s Eckler‘s insistence that “Raising A Baby With Your Husband Is So 2006” might want to reconsider the truth to such an assertion. It’s not only celebrities like Sienna Miller and Natalie Portman who are birthing babies without a quick jaunt to the altar. According to The New York Times, more than half of American children born to young women under 30 are born out of wedlock giving us new reason to recognize the many forms of family.

Such news calls into question the slow erosion of family as we’ve typically come to understand it: that being courtship, marriage, and then babies. For an entire generation of women, the trajectory has taken a much different route with mothers not wanting to necessarily promise forever and always to partners who don’t even exhibit themselves to be strong parents — and nothing is perhaps more a romance-killer than a partner who can’t even bother to change their fair share of diapers. Call these men and women what you will, I suppose. But for some, not marrying their child’s father is the best parenting decision that they’ve yet to make.

The Times also makes note of the whole marriage is reserved for the upper classes trend, citing college graduates as the group most likely to delay childrearing until after marriage. But with one sociologist describing the institution as a “luxury good,” the notion persists that a marriage certificate says more about your class in this day and age than anything else. And while children born outside of wedlock are reportedly more likely to suffer “from poverty…failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems,” using a marriage certificate to assume a child’s development and upbringing is safe is problematic. While it is easily to assume that two married people are both committed, invested, and dedicated to a child’s upbringing,  a marriage license on its own is no such indicator of such priorities. Awful marriages persist at times to the detriment of the children who would otherwise benefit from not being raised in a violent and consistently argumentative household. And perhaps in response to a previous generation of women who looked to absolve their predicament of pregnancy simply by marrying the father, their daughters seem to not be entirely convinced that marriage is the answer.

Marriages clearly dissolve for a slew of reasons, but marital expectations not aligning with marital realities is a big modern chunk of them, especially when it comes to splitting childrearing duties and household responsibilities. Gender equality may be chipping away at a more traditional form of marriage, but that doesn’t mean that those still marrying aren’t aware of that sticky terrain.

The publication notes that one reason the wealthier class is still marrying is because they can pay people to do the chores that would otherwise “prompt conflict.” So if you’ve got money in the bank, it’s much easier to pretend like you’re both equal partners if you have someone else unloading the dishwasher and doing the laundry.

Yet, what these numbers ultimately reveal to us is that children need dedicated parents, regardless of how mommies and daddies choose to recognize or express their union. Marriage may have once been the sole way to quantify a dedication to family. But with that mold having now been challenged with time, we clearly need to recognize others.

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Cee

    February 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I think children shouldn’t be the reason to get married. People should want to get married because they want to, marrying because of children or “staying together for the kids” is completely toxic because kids can pick up on these things, or you may resent your kids for “making” you stay in a bad marriage or just live a pretty unhappy life in general because being married to so and so is not what you want.

    If it were legal, I would fully marry my fiancee and then have children much later on. My reason for marriage is because I love her, I want to celebrate it and I want to legally protect her..if children come good, if not..okay. Yet, children is not the all encompassing reason for my seeking my right to marry.

  2. CW

    February 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    “Most common” and “normal” are two VERY different things. Merriam-Webster defines a norm as “a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior.” Having children out-of-wedlock may be the majority among certain groups, but that does NOT mean it is proper behavior. Cohabiting couples are far more likely to break up than spouses who have made a legal commitment to each other. Yes, some married couples divorce and some cohabiting couples stay together long enough to raise their children to adulthood. But the odds are much better for those couples who do formalize their relationship.

    • Elly

      February 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Not true. 55% of cohabiting couples eventually get married. That’s not the majority.

      From the child of a cohabiting couple who were both previously married and had children the “right way” before divorcing.


    • CW

      February 23, 2012 at 2:26 am

      55% of married couples may live together before they tie the knot but that is NOT the same thing as saying that 55% of all co-habiting couples eventually marry. Nice way to try to “spin” your promotion of an immoral lifestyle (something you obvious learned from your adulterous parents), too bad the FACTS are that only a minority of co-habiting couples wind up marrying and co-habiting couples are twice as likely as married couples are to break up.

    • Elly

      February 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      No. It’s 55% eventually get married.

      My “adulterous” parents? Fuck. You. Bitch. Who are you to call my parents adulterous and immoral? You want to know what marriage is? It’s a contract with the Goverment and/or Church. It is a man made thing that was used to keep women under the thumb of a patriarchal society, men used it to prevent women from bearing children that might not “belong” to the man she was married to.

      Marriage does not prevent people from cheating, it does not prevent people from leaving, it does not make people any more commited to each other. It is not some “magical” fix all for soceity. People have been having children outside of marriage for about as long as marriage has existed, but until about 30 years ago it was just hidden, women were forced into homes to give birth and then had their children taken away, a lot of those women then went on to marry the man they’d had the child with anyway, so what was the point?

      Marriage should be abolished. I personally feel the society would be better off without it.

      Don’t believe me? Look at Japan, they’re having a crisis of low birth numbers because women don’t want to get married, but having children out of wedlock is so looked down upon that women are barred from most jobs because of it. They’d rather work than marry anyway because once they get married they’re usually fired or prevented from going back to work because of social pressure to stay home. Even when their children are grown they are prevented from working.

      Marriage is a sham and there’s no use for it any more in modern society.

      So take that and shove it up your “righteous” asshole.

    • NotThumper

      February 25, 2012 at 11:32 am

      Wow Elly…while I completely agree with you that CW was way out of line I have to say, so are you. You are completely entitled to your opinion, you do not have to believe in marriage but please don’t dismiss it for everyone.

      It certainly isn’t helping your case by stooping to CW’s level.

    • Jen

      February 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      Elly: I completely agree with your outrage and I feel for you, because I am sure CW is not the first nasty person you’ve had to deal with on this subject. I just wish you weren’t so sour on marriage. Not because I think marriage is some wonderful, wondrous magical institution that will fix all of society’s ills and make sure that no one is ever unhappy again.
      I just think marriage can be a nice thing IF you get married for the right reasons. And those reasons are different for everyone. Some people do get married because they are religious and believe that it is a sacred institution and being married can and does provide them with spiritual fulfillment (for the record I am NOT one of these people). For others marriage just feels like the next logical step in the progress of their relationship. And some people (like your parents, like my uncle and aunt, like the hundreds of thousands of GLBT couples who are not legally allowed to) NEVER get married and still lead committed, happy lives. The point is that marriage can be a wonderful thing IF it’s something you want for yourself and if the person you choose to marry goes into it with the same feelings as you.

      Don’t let CW get you down. She hates anyone that falls outside of her very tiny little definition of “moral”.

  3. Tamara

    February 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Here’s to all the mommies with “baby daddies”. No need to rush into a conventional role just because you feel pressured or bullied. Make sure it’s right for you and for your child. If not, keep on truckin…and enjoy the ride.

  4. Patrice

    February 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    + To CW for your comments. Raising children is challenging when there are two people raising a child together but the whole “baby daddy” or “baby momma” thing is ridiculous and not beneficial to children. Judge Judy said it best on her show,”How can you commit to a child when you can’t commit to each other?” According to government statistics, 90% of cohabitating couples eventually break up. So why bring children into it? Marriage is not perfect but it is the best and most secure way to provide for children’s futures.

    • Jen

      February 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Umm…according to government statistics 55% of cohabiting couples eventually marry and another 10% continue in the relationship for *at least* 20 years (which is what they had data for). Unless math has suddenly changed, I’d say your 90% statistic is just plain wrong. Literally every married person I know under the age of 45 lived together before getting married and at least three of them had children together. All have now been married for 5+ years.

      There are plenty of reasons for couples who have children not to get married (or at least have children first). Some couples–thanks in large part to the same religious right who clutches their pearls about couples cohabiting and having families outside of wedlock–aren’t legally able to marry. Couples who are not religious might not view marriage as particularly important. I knew a couple with children who actually stayed unmarried because one of the pair was only able to receive needed government benefits if she stayed unmarried.

      I personally wasn’t married until my daughter was nearly 3. My then-boyfriend-now-husband and I resisted a huge amount of pressure from our conservative family members to “make it legal” before my daughter arrived. We made this decision because we had not been together for very long at the time and had decided as a couple that we would rather wait until we were as sure as possible that our marriage wouldn’t end in divorce BEFORE we said any vows.

    • Mia

      February 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Agree with Patrice and CW. “Common” does not in any way equal “normal.”

  5. Andrea

    February 21, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Well kudos to you Koa Beck for proving us all “2006ers” wrong!! Geez, I feel so special now that I now I am not the “norm”. What WAS I thinking by waiting until I met the right man, then getting married, then being financially stable, and then having children?? Gosh how stupid and retro was I? Thank you SO much for setting me straight!

    I’ll make sure to teach my daughters that the new normal is to have multiple children by multiple men and forget about getting married! I’m sure that will make for a strong and secure woman. Thank you SO much for opening my eyes Koa!

    • Avodah

      February 21, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      Where is the “Like” button? I firmly believe there are many ways to have a family. However, acceptance of different family-styles does not mean people have carte blanche to do whatever they want.

    • Patrice

      February 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Exactly, Andrea!!!!

  6. Kim

    February 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    “So if you’ve got money in the bank, it’s much easier to pretend like you’re both equal partners if you have someone else unloading the dishwasher and doing the laundry.”

    …Are you flipping serious?!?!?!?!?

  7. Adaline

    February 22, 2012 at 10:23 am

    From your selectively quoted article:

    Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University recently found that children born to married couples, on average, “experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”

    Just because it’s the new normal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  8. Elly

    February 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Nice to know everyone here is so judgemental. I happen to be a child of a pair of unmarried parents thank you very much, I’m going on 20 and they’re going on 22 years of living together and not tying the knot. Of course, most of that had to do with the fact that both their divorces weren’t officially finalised until about 5 years ago.

    See, they did it the “right” way according to everyone here. Got married, had kids and then everything went tits up.

    Oh, and just so everyone knows, just because you don’t get married when you have children doesn’t mean you’re going to have 10 kids by 10 fathers and live off the state forever, I’d wish everyone here would learn to pull their heads out of their asses before commenting but I don’t think all the stars and Disney magic would be able to pull it off!

    • AKatC

      February 22, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      I agree with you. The marriage portion has nothing to do with it. It seems the issue with the first article (which is actually titled HAVING a child with your husband is so 2006 in stead of RAISING) was that the author appeared proud of the fact that she had 2 “baby daddies” rather than children with a husband, or 1 man. 2 kids, 2 fathers, now that isn’t 10 kids by 10 fathers but you’d have to start somewhere right?
      Truthfully, in some cases marriage really is just a piece of paper. It doesn’t change the relationship between the couple or the relationship with the child. It might just mean a tax break.

  9. Jen

    February 23, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Elly: Here is a link to one of the many studies that say exactly what you pointed out before. More than half (it seems to range anywhere between 55 and 65% depending on the sample) of cohabiting couples marry within 5 years of starting to live together.

    As I said before I don’t know a married couple under 45 who didn’t live together before getting married.

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