So it's official. America is becoming more like France in a way that few Americans would wish. Government health data revealed this week that 4 in 10 children were born out of wedlock last year. This figure was up slightly from 200, but way up from 1940, when, marriage expert and author Stephanie Koontz reports, the rate was 7.1 births per 1,000 unmarried women.
This is not good news. All data-watchers know children born to unwed parents are more likely to grow up poor, less likely to go to college, and more likely to live their entire lives in poverty than children born to married parents.
What's less well publicized is the fact that the Bush administration is four years into its expansive marriage initiative, which is pumping a half-billion dollars over five years into religious- and community-based programs to encourage young couples to wed. And so far this massive taxpayer dole (mainly to religious institutions) is having little effect.
The good news from the new data on unwed parenting is that teen girls are having fewer babies out of wedlock. In 2005, births to unwed girls ages 15 to 19 hit a record low. But this drop follows decades of effort by sex education experts to teach teens the difficulties of unwed parenthood at a young age.
Twenty- and thirty-somethings, already out of high school and possibly college, are paying more attention to the Katie Holmeses, Angelina Jolies, and Madonnas of the world than they are to the Wade Horns (he, the leader of the Bush administration's marriage-preaching crowd). Perhaps it would be more effective for the administration to pay Hollywood types to stop having babies before wedlock, instead of paying church groups to preach (quite literally in some cases) to their choirs.