Single Mothers


In a recent New York Times column, veteran political reporter Thomas B. Edsall argued that a successful Democratic Party would have to pay attention to moderate voters’ concerns about the rising percentage of births occurring among unmarried women-recently reported to be at an all-time high of 37 percent. Presumably, what Edsall had in mind was the widespread sense of crisis triggered in the mid-1990s when the percentage of such births reached 33 percent. At that time, politicians as different as Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle saw this as a national problem.

But so far there is little evidence to suggest a similar alarm over the further increase in unmarried motherhood. When the National Center for Health Statistics issued the 37-percent figure late last year, it was duly reported in the press. Otherwise, the news passed virtually without comment. Neither the punditocracy nor the political class had anything to say about this new high-water mark.

One reason is surely that the problems of the mid-1990s seem small compared to the problems that the nation faces in 2007. For now at least, the public is understandably more focused on the rising death toll in Iraq than on the rising number of births to single women at home. However, there is another reason why people are now less concerned about the still-rising number of births to singles: in the years since the mid-1990s, we’ve perfected the status of unwed...

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.