The missing headline: 'Unmarried birth rate rises'

Horrors! The teen birth rate rises!

Thus spake the mainstream media when preliminary data from the Centres for Disease Control showed that the teen birth rate rose three per cent in 2006, the first rise since 1991. The mainstream media reacted true to form. They rounded up the usual suspects: abstinence education and those pesky Christian conservatives. If only the media had troubled to examine the whole report, though, they might have noticed a few things that didn’t fit their template of sex-education-good, abstinence-bad.

First, the overall birth rate increased so substantially that we could call it another baby boom. The general fertility rate increased three per cent between 2005 and 2006, to 68.4 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, the highest level since 1991. The increase in the teen birth rate is roughly this same three per cent. The preliminary estimate of births in 2006 was over four million, the largest single-year increase in the number of births since 1989 and the largest number of births in any single year since 1961. In my view, the overall rise in births is good news. Every new baby is a sign of hope, a sign that someone believes in the future.

The sexual revolution ideology must be continually propped up with misinformation.

 Now for the bad news. Unmarried childbearing increased. The birth rate rose seven per cent in 2006 to 50.6 per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15 to 44 years. The number of births to unmarried women increased by nearly eight per cent in 2006 to 1,641,700. In other words, over one-and-a-half million children were born into the family form that is systematically likely to leave them in poverty, jeopardize their chance for higher education and give them tenuous relationship with their fathers.

The unmarried mothers’ birth rate rose over twice as much as the teen birth rate. But the mainstream media did not find this worthy of comment. So, let’s ask ourselves why they choose to emphasize one figure, the increase in teen births, over an increase in unmarried childbearing.

First, virtually everyone in society agrees that teenagers are too young to be suitable parents. Even the most non-judgmental moral relativist can see that the children of teen mothers have poorer life chances than the children of more mature mothers. No one gets called names for being skeptical that teen mothers made sober decisions about embracing an alternative lifestyle.

Second, the increase in unmarried childbearing must be laid directly at the doorstep of the weird ideological cocktail that is the modern American sexual ethos: feminism, consumerism and sexual liberation. Women don’t need men. Women are entitled to have a baby if they want, when they want, on any terms they want. Sex is a private recreational activity that is no big deal.

Some adherents of this ideology believe that unmarried childbearing is actually a good thing. Modern single mothers are striking a blow for women’s independence. We can’t possibly expect the media establishment, which is really the mouthpiece for the sexual revolution, to pass judgment on the choice to become an unmarried mother, even though the data tell us that it is a really dumb choice.

The entire sex ideology requires that we sweep the consequences for the next generation under the rug. Children suffer real harms. Some of these harms threaten the structures of freedom. Children of single mothers are more likely to repeat a grade of school, to drop out of school and get lower grades. They are more likely to experience poor mental and physical health. Fatherless boys are more likely to end up in prison, fatherless girls are at risk for early sexual activity themselves. All these pathologies cost taxpayer dollars to repair or mitigate. And some of these harms threaten the next generation’s ability to maintain a society of free and responsible individuals.

But never mind. Judge not, and all that.

Finally, even if you thought unmarried childbearing really is a bad thing, there is simply no way you could blame it on the dreaded Christian conservatives. People of faith, including Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, and traditional Jews, have consistently taught that marriage is the proper context for sexual activity and childbearing. It is only recently that social science has caught up with this timeless wisdom by showing how much children need their fathers and mothers to be working together as a team. The increase in unmarried childbearing can not be laid at our doorstep. It would be far more honest to say that the harms associated with unmarried childbearing vindicate the ancient teaching.

The sexual revolution is not based in reality because it disconnects sexual activity from its natural purposes of procreation and spousal unity. This ideology can not sustain itself in a free and open competition of ideas, precisely because it is so artificial. The sexual revolution ideology must be continually propped up with misinformation.

That is why the mainstream media bombarded us with reports about the increase in teen birth rate and completely ignored the much larger increase in unmarried birth rates. Those numbers cut too close to the bone.

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the Senior Research Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute and the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World.


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