A new study conducted by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values finds that a growing number of children are now born to unwed parents.
The study, entitled “State of Our Unions,” focused on the 60 percent of Americans who graduated from high school but did not finish college, a demographic the researchers refer to as “middle-America.”
In that group, 44 percent of children are now born outside of marriage; that’s up from 13 percent in the 1980s.
“Marriage in Middle America is at a tipping point, with unwed childbearing threatening to become a new norm,” said report co-author W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.
The researchers say that children in the growing demographic are at increased risk for lifelong hardship.
“The children of Middle America, already vulnerable to economic challenges in their communities, are exposed to even greater risks when their parents are unable to form and sustain a healthy marriage,” said report lead author Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.
The Institute for American Values recommends increasing government incentives and education about marriage in order to reverse the trend. Some of the suggestions include:
- Eliminating marriage penalties and disincentives for the poor, for unwed mothers and for older Americans, including lesser-known disincentives present in current Medicaid and Social Security policies.
- Tripling the child tax credit to shore up the economic foundations of family life in middle-America.
- Investing in and evaluating marriage and relationship education programs.
- Engaging Hollywood, much as the anti-smoking movement did, to help shape positive American attitudes toward marriage and parenting.
The representatives of the organization say that the measures would save taxpayer dollars in the long run. They cite one study in particular that calculated reducing family fragmentation by just 1 percent would save $1.1 billion annually as fewer children repeat grades, are suspended from school, require counseling or attempt suicide.