Out-of-Wedlock Births: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Out-of-Wedlock Births: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Out-of-Wedlock Births: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Out-of-Wedlock Births: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Synopsis

Abrahamson focuses on the dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock births that occurred in the United States during the last half of the 20th century. He provides the most current demographic data, and summarizes the findings in a nontechnical manner made more meaningful by references to the lives of actual people. He also provides extensive case studies from other societies and other eras.

Excerpt

Over the last several decades I have been watching, with dismay, the deterioration of social life in most of America's inner cities. The poverty, school failures, crime, and violence that are now pervasive in the urban core all seem to have been markedly worsened by the increase in the number of young women who had babies despite not having husbands. As I began to pay more attention to the issue, I was struck by the ideological and philosophical differences separating analysts on the Left and the Right. While agreeing that nonmarital childbearing has exacerbated many inner-city problems, they disagreed completely on whether it was a cause, a symptom, or an effect. I wondered if I could steer a middle course and bring a more diverse set of data to bear on the question.

It also became clear to me that young, inner-city black and Hispanic women were the stereotypical unwed mothers and that while a significant portion of unwed mothers did fit this description, many did not. Older and wealthier women were also having children outside of marriage because, as conventionally defined, marriage simply did not fit their lifestyles. I was intrigued with the variability of the women who were having children outside of marriage, and I wondered if it was possible to generalize about this demographic category and about the social conditions associated with fluctuations in its relative size.

I initially began to assemble data on a couple of dozen places that, at different time periods, experienced increases in out-of-wedlock births. This produced chapters that contained little "snippets" that, in three or four pages, provided condensed pictures of out-of-wedlock birth pat-

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