Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Expanding Society

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Expanding Society

Article excerpt

Americans think there is a social, political corollary to the physical law of a constantly expanding universe. They are convinced that things should improve, that their futures should open up, not contract.

The notion of Western expansion has turned back on itself a bit, with Washington State about to claim parity with Massachusetts in congressional-delegation size as well as claiming bragging rights for information and technology leadership.

The expansion is intellectual: For example, economists this week are honoring colleagues who have made Nobel-quality contributions for findings like how business leaders' economic expectations can lead them to decisions that drive up labor costs and create unemployment. The expansion is legal: In the current Brookings Review, George Akerlof and Janet Yellen explain how the liberalization of state abortion laws in the late 1960s and early 1970s (anticipating Roe v. Wade in January 1973) occurred at the same time that unmarried people gained greater legal access to contraceptives. "We have found that this sudden increase in the availability of both abortion and contraception - we call it a reproductive technology shock - is deeply implicated in the increase in out-of-wedlock births," they write. Liberalized abortion and contraception were expected to result in fewer out-of-wedlock births. But the opposite happened, because the public began to drop the practice of forced or "shotgun" marriage as a response to pregnancy. If the shotgun marriage rate had remained steady from 1965 to 1990, white out-of-wedlock births would have risen only 25 percent as much as they have. Black out-of-wedlock births would have increased only 40 percent, they say. Before the 1970s, unmarried women kept fewer of their babies, putting them up for adoption. As women's financial opportunities increased and the out-of-wedlock stigma decreased, women could build their own single-parent households. …

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