Motherhood Before Marriage

An important article about motherhood from National Review: This article originally appeared in the September 24, 2007, issue of National Review magazine.

By Kate O’Beirne

— An American credo to ponder.

Young women who idealize marriage, fiercely disapprove of divorce, and eagerly embrace the self-denying demands of motherhood might be thought a welcome antidote to the breakdown of the American family. But some young women who hold just these attitudes are responsible for what William F. Buckley Jr. calls “the single greatest problem in America.” That problem is illegitimacy.

A fascinating, in-depth study published in 2005 — Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage – explores the views of low-income single mothers whose children are illegitimate. Its insights on out-of-wedlock births shatter the paradigms of poverty warriors left and right.

The harmful effects of growing up without a father in the home are depressingly well documented. Children raised in single-parent homes are more likely than children raised in intact families to have emotional and behavioral problems, to engage in crime, to fail in school, to abuse drugs, and to be on welfare as adults. The recent Census Bureau report measuring the 2006 poverty rate reminds us that, if poor mothers married the fathers of their children, the number of poor children would be reduced by over two-thirds. Over a third of all American children are born out of wedlock, and illegitimacy rates in low-income communities are more than twice the national average.

A range of supposed root causes has been offered to explain illegitimacy. Many conservatives fault the perverse incentives of welfare programs, which subsidize destructive behavior. Some of these conservatives advocate the restructuring of government aid around different, positive incentives. Others believe that desperate straits would compel smarter, self-interested behavior on the part of welfare recipients, and so make the politically futile argument that all welfare should be ended. Supporters of abstinence education hope to reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births by discouraging sexual activity among young people wholly unready for parenthood.

Read more: National Review