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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not Good News for Public Education

In 2007 the U.S. recorded its highest birth rate ever (this in an article in the Times). On the one hand for us Baby Boomers, good news. We'll have a large enough generation to support us in our old age. (This is a line I like to use on teens when encouraging them to do well in school; I tell them I need them for my Social Security.)

On the other hand, 40% of the births are out-of-wedlock. (More than 3/4 of these women are over 20.) This is not good for public education. I'm not talking morality - people have to live with the choices they make. However, children from single parent homes do worse in school and present with more issues than kids from two-parent households. And the teen birth rate is up for the second year in a row.

Will it last? It doesn't seem so.

"But it's not clear the boomlet will last long. Some experts think birth rates are already declining because of the economic recession that began in late 2007.

"I expect they'll go back down. The lowest birth rates recorded in the United States occurred during the Great Depression — and that was before modern contraception," said Dr. Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health.

The 2007 statistical snapshot reflected a relatively good economy coupled with cultural trends that promoted childbirth, she and others noted."

8 comments:

TechyMom said...

The 40% number doesn't worry me that much. That number includes a fair number of two parent families where the parents aren't married, either because they're gay, or because their taxes would double, or because they don't see the point of the "piece of paper". I read about somewhere (Sweden?) where cohabitating was the norm, and few people got married. I think this is becomming more and more true in the US, especially in places like Seattle.

And then, of course, just because parents were married at the time of birth doesn't mean they're still married when the kid arrives at kindergarten or graduates high school.

The 40% number also includes successful, educated women who choose to have children on their own. I haven't seen research on this, but anechdotal evidence tells me that the outcomes for kids born on purpose to an educated mother with enough money will be better than those for accidental single-parent situations. Of course, they will probably go to public school, because financing private school on one income would be very difficult.

So, basically, I don't think "born out of wedlock" is the right thing to be measuring. Eight year olds living with two adults would be a much more interesting number, as would accidental vs. on-purpose conception.

TechyMom said...

Oh, and, remind me... Why are we closing schools just as this baby boom starts arriving at their doors?

Melissa Westbrook said...

So I looked into this issue because I was wondering about TechyMom's term "fair number".

The number of kids adopted by gay/lesbian couples is about 4%. The number of children born to lesbian women is roughly 500,000 (this was a hard one to track down). There is a little less than 3% of children living with unmarried parents. (Interestingly, the NW has the largest number of unmarried couples with children.)

And single successful women? It's a rapid growth from the early '90s but overall a small proportion of unmarried parents.

Many kids are born to parents who may be co-habitating (or continue to have a relationship). Most claim they will marry usually based on economics.

"In reality, however, most of these couples do not marry. Five years after
the baby is born, only a quarter of the cohabiting couples have married,
while fully half have broken up. Among unmarried parents who are
romantically involved but not cohabiting when their baby is born, only 7
percent are married to each other five years later, and more than three
quarters have broken up.

According to Families and Living Arrangements: 2007, some 73.7
million children younger than 18 lived in the United States. Of these,
67.8 percent lived with married parents, 2.9 percent lived with two
unmarried parents, 25.8 percent lived with one parent and 3.5 percent
lived with no parent present.

These data come from the 2007 Current Population Survey. This
survey, which has been continuously conducted since 1940, has been
expanded to include two new questions that allow tabulation about
unmarried partner couples and their children."

beansa said...

Do the issues presented by children from single-parent homes have to do with poverty, or do they persist through all socioeconomic levels? I wonder if single-parent kids do better if the noncustodial parent is more involved in her/his life?

I'm wondering if this is a matter of correlation or causation. It would be good to know so that the root causes can be addressed. I always get on edge around statements like "children of single-parent families do worse in school" because they're so often used to mother-bash and to push conservative marriage ideology (like the gov't paying for programs to push marriage, instead of paying for high-quality childcare, etc.)

Syd said...

It is important to remember that these children are individuals. They will experience successes and failures based on their experiences. Poverty does not help, but it is not insurmountable.

I am one of these statistics, as are my 6 brothers and sisters. Mixed race and raised by a single mom on welfare, 5 of 7 of these children went to college. And not just any colleges - Yale, Berkeley, University of Texas and U of Houston.

Many of the children I knew growing up - with middle class and upper middle class two-parent homes - did not fare as well.

I do commend my mother for playing the school choice game well (magnet schools and minority to majority transfers). Good schools were what made the difference in our lives.

That, and my mother offering a glimpse of how hard one has to work if one does not have a the choices a good education gives you.

h2o girl said...

"people have to live with the choices they make"

What exactly do you mean by this? I am one of these statistics as well, and my 'choice' is now in 6th grade. I chose not to get married. I also chose to live in the same neighborhood as her father after we split up, and I chose to volunteer in her clasroom for the last six years, and I choose to make sure her homework is done, and I choose to come places like this blog to be as informed as I can about the school district. We may be a statistical anomaly, but your dismissive attitude is deeply insulting.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I certainly did not mean to insult anyone. But we all make choices and our lives play out as they do. Sometimes fate makes a choice for us. I meant no judgment (and I said, I was not talking morality) but just that some choices can make life harder than other but again, that's a personal choice.

Sahila said...

Melissa -

"some choices can make life harder than others, but again, that's a personal choice..."

I'm almost 51 years old...I'm the single parent to a 5 year old...his father has minimal involvement in his life...we're pretty much living on the bread line...

I didnt plan to have my second-time around experience of parenting and family manifest quite like this...

I thought his father and I would be together and two bright, skilled people with a solid middle-class financial base would be able to give this child a very good start in life...

Then domestic violence reared its ugly head and cancer and shelters and courts....

I could have chosen to stay in the relationship (pretty much an INS bureaucratically forced marriage) and lived a much more materially comfortable life and my child would have had many more resources and experiences to draw from, with two adults attending to his needs...

And he'd be learning a whole different set of 'rules' about how life and relationships operate...

What choice did I really have, if I had my child's whole-life, whole-being welfare at heart?

And so I live with the consequences of choosing to leave his father - taking on the job of raising a child, giving up financial security, stability, navigating a new country/society without family or a support network, finding work that fits around my child's needs, carrying significant medical and legal debt and somehow still finding the time and energy to do what I can in my private life and in the larger world so that my child has access to at least some of the enriching resources and experiences his grown-up siblings had and that many of his peers enjoy.