The New York Times & births outside of marriage

I cannot abide people who blame the media for society’s ills. I worked as a newspaper reporter for a decade & I mostly kept my temper under control against waves of ignorant commenters, racist readers and the like. I would almost always go off on people who talked mess about the media, though. This is a disclaimer, because I am irritated by this New York Times piece about births outside of marriage. It reinforces stereotypes about black women while essentially underscoring that while “middle America” — meaning middle class white people — is starting to live more like how people of color in working class and poor communities have been living for generations now. Instead of them becoming ostracized (like in the good old days?) as they do so, they are creating ” a new normal.” The piece  reaches back to the 1965 Moynihan Report that referred to the dysfunctional, matriarchal black family (shaped so by slavery, I might add) as one that had produced “a tangle of pathology”:

It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.
Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

OK, so that’s all fairly innocuous. It takes a little while before we are reminded just what, exactly, is inferred by illegitimacy. Also, there is a coded mancession/masculinity-crisis swipe that I’ll let you find for yourself. Only educated men seem normal in this piece, and there aren’t that many of them. I find it interesting that the piece focuses on Lorain, Ohio, the birthplace of Toni Morrison, who I believe is a divorced single mother. This was published on her birthday, ironically.

Anyway, the piece goes on to say, women went to work, single motherhood lost its stigma and in the meantime, people stopped getting married and children happened. So, what’s my problem? The juicy stuff is here:

The recent rise in single motherhood has set off few alarms, unlike in past eras…
By the mid-1990s, such figures looked quaint: a third of Americans were born outside marriage. Congress, largely blaming welfare, imposed tough restrictions. Now the figure is 41 percent — and 53 percent for children born to women under 30, according to Child Trends, which analyzed 2009 data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Still, the issue received little attention until the publication last month of “Coming Apart,” a book by Charles Murray, a longtime critic of non-marital births.
Large racial differences remain: 73 percent of black children are born outside marriage, compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites. And educational differences are growing. About 92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.

Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.

I don’t argue with hard numbers, but I am annoyed at the lack of any kind of alternative family structure attempt in the analysis here. No same sex families, no single fathers, just single black moms and other ethnic groups that are too much like them. The story essentially reinforces stereotypes it seeks to disprove through reminding us — though those of us who are “illegitimate” might disagree — that pretty much anything that happens outside of marriage is bad news.  Instead of posing more questions about cultural preferences, or even mentioning Ralph Richard Banks’ book about marriage (which more delicately reinforces some of the statistical data here) this piece aims at painting a portrait of women who are content to damage themselves for the “luxury good” that is marriage and alter their children’s futures in the process.

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