Non-marital births are those that occur to unmarried women. According to United States Census Bureau, in 2006 38.5% of all births in the country were of non marital origin. This figure has been rising steadily within the last 66 years. From 1940-2006 70.7% of African-American births were non marital births (Carmen, 2008). 64.6% of American-Indian births were non marital whereas 49.9% of Hispanic births were non marital. Again, Carmen (2008) documents that 26.6% of white births and 16.3% of Asian births were non marital.
A non marital birth can be a first, second or other birth that occurs to a woman who has never married. After declining for fourteen straight years before 2006, non married births increased sharply. Women in their early twenties and not teens have the highest percentage of birth outside marriage. In 2005 women aged between 20-24 years accounted for 38% of 1.5 million non marital births in the US. Women under 20 years accounted for 23% (Sternheimer, 2009). More than eighty percent of births to teenagers are non marital.
Cohabiting couples are responsible for a significant number of non marital births. The percentage of non marital births due to cohabiting couples has increased from 29% in the early 1980s, to 39% in early 1990s. In 1990s Hispanics and Whites had higher proportion of non marital births to cohabiting parents. In 2007, 67.8% of the 73.7 million US children under age 18 lived with both of their married parents (US Census Bureau (2009). 2.9% lived with both parents who were not married. 17.9% lived with their mothers and 2.6% lived with their fathers.
Reasons for increase in non marital births
Gradual change in the social norm that has resulted in increase in sexual activity is a major cause of non marital birth (Jerkins and Pereira, 2008). Participation in risky behavior that often lead to sexual escapades, are rampant among the youth. Ethically, sex is supposed to be for married people. However, there continues to be a social trend whereby people are engaged in sexual activities from time to time. Some social activities that increase the tendency and risk factor of sexual activity among young people include drink ups, birthday parties, graduation parties and proms. Toda, it is almost impossible to eliminate these social activities from among the young population. One truth that cannot be denied about these social activities is that it opens the young people up to peer influence, freedom to experiment and misconceptions about sex. Due to the change in social norm, which has created a mentality that sex among young people who are in love is normal, teenage pregnancy has become more acceptable and less stigmatized.
Research by Gardener et al (2003) shows that a lot of young ladies are more concerned about having babies than having husbands. Such people argue that children form part of them and account for the continuation of their lineage. Because of this conception, a lot of people open themselves up to sexual activities that intentionally lead to child birth even when there is lack of marriage. Lack of marriageable partners especially as researched in the Black Community in the US is responsible for delayed marriages which result in unmarried pregnancies. By marriageable partners, reference is being made to young men who are of age and legitimate to marriage but due to socio-economic conditions, are not able to get married. Some of the socio-economic conditions that delays marriages among young men, making young women very difficult at arriving at marriage include unemployment and poverty in this community. There could be other core causes of the problem due to urban social disintegration related to drug and alcohol use.
Economic expansion is another major reason why non marital births continue to surge higher and higher. Today, women are actively involved in time consuming economic ventures. Because of this, there is a generally delayed marriage among them. With the vigorous economic expansion in the last several decades many women have taken up jobs rather than depend on welfare dole out. This has resulted in postponement of marriages. The average age of marriages according to US Census Bureau (2009) has increased for both men and women over the years. For women the average age of 20.3 years in the 1950s has increased to 25.5 years by 2006. This could be due to multiple factors: the varying complex attitude of potential couples towards marriage, changing social norms, women’s liberation among others. As women continue to delay in the time they get married, they suddenly realize that they are heading very close to menopause – a time by which they can no longer make children. The pressure to have babies before menopause forces some women to engage in sexual activities with deliberate intentions of making babies; even if the relationships between the fathers of the children would not end in marriage.
The phenomenon of unhappy marriages also continues to be a reason why some women will not stay in marriages. It must be noted that non-marital birth does not refer only to births among people who have never been married before but also births among people who have divorced. In most parts of the world, there exists a common situation whereby women and men prefer to divorce because once they are tagged as legally married, they are forced to fulfill certain obligations and live with certain nature of their spouses that the most abort. In order to ‘liberate’ themselves from the conditions the abort, they decide to divorce but mutually agree to continue making babies. The situation is not different among women who have never been married but hold the perception that marriage is restrictive. Brett (2006) observes that the increasing sophistication of women postponing marriage or opting out of it to stay single rather than remain locked in unhappy marriages “for the sake of the children” is becoming increasingly popular. They prefer the convenience of staying single, getting their freedom and yet making babies to staying in marriages, being unhappy and still making babies.
Scientifically, the improper use of contraceptive methods results in unplanned births outside marriage. It will be vey difficult for anyone to predict an era in human life when self outside marriage will stop. Meanwhile, sex outside marriage is what leads to non marital births. As long as sex outside marriage will continue, one of the best ways for couples to avoid pregnancy and subsequent sex outside marriage is to protect themselves by the use of contraceptives. Unfortunately, not all people are familiar with the use of contraceptives the right way. Those who are familiar with the use of contraceptives also tend to make mistakes some times. All these are instances that lead to birth outside marriage. The problem with some couples also is that they make the wrong choices regarding which contraceptive or birth control plan to use. Finally, some women may have non married births due to the so called Biological Clock Issues (Katz, 2011). Such women who have spent most of their adult lives pursuing careers may feel the additional time to wait for the right spouse is scanty to the extent that some have used modern technology of in vitro fertilization and sperm donation procedures to have children without a spouse.
Consequences of Non Marital Births
For birth to occur outside marriage means for a child to have the tendency of being raised by a single or unmarried parents. Any of these situations also reduces the tendency that a child will have quality parental care. Research indicates that children who grow up with only one biological parent in the home are more likely to be financially worse off and have worse socioeconomic outcomes (Carmen, 2011). Worse of all, these little kids also have emotional and behavioral problems. All these problems arise because of the potential absence of close monitoring for children by the non-married parents. There is even a situation whereby children born outside marriage are stigmatized in society because the whole idea of childbirth outside marriage is seen as an inappropriate act.
Young girls or boys who involve themselves in birth outside marriage; especially when they are in school are also affected because they are not able to further their education. Teens that give birth are unable to further their education thereby reducing their potential for economic self sufficiency. Their inability to further their education often occurs as a result of two factors. For the females, they have to stay outside school to take care of their pregnancy and children. The males also stay out of school because they have to sacrifice their schooling finance to taking care of their children and partners.
Non marital births have potential financial cost to the taxpayer. Reports indicate that those costs arise from increase taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice and education programs. A 2006 report estimated US taxpayers spent nine billion dollars per year for child welfare benefits, health care expenses among others (Camarota, 2011). In fact non marital births are a major cause for Welfare Reforms in the US.
- Abstinence Promotion
Sex is the number one cause of birth. Non-marital birth can therefore best be intervened if non married people will not engage in premarital sex. It must be agreed that apart from the need to avoid the consequences of birth outside marriage, sex among unmarried people comes with other physical, emotional and psychological effects that are also avoided through abstinence from sex. It is for this reason that advocates continue to send one strong message: To say NO to premarital sex.
- Comprehensive sex education
Collins, Alagiri and Summers (2002) insist that giving the youth information on decision making skills to make practical decisions about abstinence, contraceptive use, resisting peer pressure is necessary. As part of the comprehensive sex education, there should be the organization of youth programs, through which opportunity will be sought to give young people extensive sex education, mentoring and counseling, health care, academic support, career counseling, sports, volunteerism among others.
- Healthy Marriage Programs
Policies and programs should be formulated and implemented towards popularizing healthy marriages. This way, young people will prefer to remain married rather than stay outside marriage and continue giving birth outside the marriage. It is possible that healthy marriage programs will lead to the creation of responsible fatherhood programs among young males. Indeed the time has come for the mentality that males are the worse culprits in marriage offenses to stop.
- Family Planning Services
It is important to intensify education through family planning services to provide basic reproductive heath services, contraceptive services and supply, abstinence counseling, gynecological care, screening and preventive education among others to young people who have the tendency of engaging in sex outside marriage (Pardue, Rector and Shannan, 2004).
Non marital births have been prevalent in modern human societies for hundreds of years. With increasing sophistication of populations, it is clear conservative lifestyles are fast eroding. Abstinence, a conservative approach is becoming moribund (Tjingaete, 1995). I strongly support the sex education approach supported by massive governmental support financially. Emphasis should be on keeping teens in school, and encouraging achieving vocational skills.