It has become increasingly common for parents to move in together and have children out of wedlock—as many as two-thirds of the children in the black community, by some estimates—but this phenomenon may also be correlated to the rise in teen violence and high school dropouts. A report released in 2011 revealed that the children of cohabitating parents are at a high risk for psychological issues and even physical abuse. The 18 family scholars who conducted the research are urging Americans to get back to the traditional values before it’s too late.
The study was brought to the public’s attention after it was published by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, in a book titled, Why Marriage Matters. Both of these groups aim to strengthen traditional values pertaining to marriage and the family, which explains why both groups were extremely troubled by the results of their research. Brad Wilcox, co-author of the report and head of the National Marriage Project, revealed that “rates of out-of-wedlock childbearing have soared.” According to Wilcox, “Forty-one percent of all births are now to unwed mothers, many of them living with—but not married to—the child’s father.” Parents are creating a rather unstable environment for their children because there is nothing to keep either of the parents loyal to their relationship. Once times get hard, there is nothing to keep one parent from abandoning the child and the relationship.
To make matters worse, the pattern seems to have created a vicious cycle. When one partner leaves the mother behind, she quickly replaces him with another man. This introduces the child to several father figures, but hinders the child’s relationship with their own father. In today’s society, it is not even surprising to meet siblings with different last names. Another recent study showed that one fourth of American women with multiple children conceived them with more than one man. This kind of instability and confusion has a very negative impact on the children.
Psychologist John Gottman, another co-author of the report, claims that the damage occurs “both in externalizing disorders, more aggression, and internalizing disorders, more depression.”
So the question is, What’s going on here?
Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz made it her goal to find out.
It turns out that people who are likely to get married have traits that would make their union strong, such as mutual respect, problem solving skills, and economic security, according to Coontz. This suggests that people without these traits are likely to avoid marriage and have children out of wedlock. With so many working men losing their jobs in the past few years, it has become common for many lower-income Americans to avoid marriage. “Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing is as much a symptom of the instability of children’s lives as it is a cause of it,” Coontz said. Children feel more stable when they can show their love to one set of parents. It is detrimental to the child’s development to constantly introduce new parental figures who seem to leave just as fast as they come.
When parents divorce, or fail to get married at all, their children tend to shy away from marriage as well. Based on a reading of current statistics, the trend of couples having children out-of-wedlock is destined to grow worse.