Nor are unmarried mothers typically in their teens; contrary to all the talk of an epidemic of teenage motherhood, the birthrate among adolescent girls has dropped by nearly half since 1991 and last year hit an all-time low, a public health triumph that experts attribute to better sex education and birth-control methods.Most unmarried mothers today, demographers say, are in their 20s and early 30s.
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As a result, 41 percent of babies are now born out of wedlock, a fourfold increase since 1970.
The trend is not demographically uniform, instead tracking the nation’s widening gap in income and opportunity.
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As steep as the fertility decline has been, the marriage rate has fallen more sharply, particularly among young women, who do most of the nation’s childbearing.
Sixty-two percent of the public, and 72 percent of adults under 30, view the ideal marriage as one in which husband and wife both work and share child care and household duties; back when Jimmy Carter was president, less than half of the population approved of the dual-income family, and less than half of 1 percent of husbands knew how to operate a sponge mop.
Mothers are bringing home more of the bacon, and of the mortarboards, too.“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J.Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University.Among women with a bachelor’s degrees or higher, 90 percent adhere to the old playground song and put marriage before a baby carriage.For everybody else, maternity is often decoupled from matrimony: 40 percent of women with some college but no degree, and 57 percent of women with high school diplomas or less, are unmarried when they give birth to their first child.The typical American family, if it ever lived anywhere but on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving canvas, has become as multilayered and full of surprises as a holiday turducken — the all-American seasonal portmanteau of deboned turkey, duck and chicken.