“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”
These are the words of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, social scientist and former senator from New York, summarizing the results of his study on the impact of out-of-wedlock births in the African-American community. In 1965, when he made this observation, 25 percent of black children were born to unmarried mothers, compared to only 3 percent of white children born into similar circumstances. This was considered a problem of crisis proportions in the 1960s. Today, however, when the illegitimacy rate is 72 percent among blacks and 30 percent among whites, the 1965 numbers seem almost quaint.
A new study sheds some more light on this issue by determining that education, not race, provides the clearest indicator of whether a woman will have children before getting married. The National Marriage Project issued a report titled “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America.” It found dramatic differences in the rate of illegitimacy by education. Among women who are college graduates, only 12 percent of first births are out of wedlock. That compares to 49 percent of first births by women with some college, but are not graduates, and 68 percent of women who have not graduated from high school.
Economic stability is directly connected to marriage and education as well. Of all single-parent families, 36 percent are living in poverty. This compares to 6.4 percent of two-parent families. Couples who stay together after having children, but choose not to marry, are “three times as likely to break up by a child’s fifth birthday as those who are married," according to Kay Hymowitz, a Manhattan Institute fellow. Hymowitz also noted that this “often means absent fathers, higher risk of school failure, greater emotional turmoil [and] more early pregnancy" for the girls in these families.
These are grim statistics, but they are also reversible ones.
Marriage has been the subject of a great deal of societal turmoil over the past decade. Many who view it as a social convention fail to recognize its role as an economic bedrock principle for society. It’s encouraging to discover that education on any subject correlates with an increased appreciation for the importance of marriage. This should open the door for education that specifically addresses the costs associated with out-of-wedlock births and the positive public benefits that marriage creates.
The problem is clear, and so is the answer. Rarely do such massive societal crises have such clear and obvious solutions. Because higher education helps to enhance the stability of marriage, we should do everything to encourage both.