Vital Signs

The Failure of “Family Policy”

Welfare reform was supposed to discourage unmarried child­bearing.  However, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently disclosed that out-of-wedlock births are at a record high.  The Census Bureau also reports that, for the first time, married couples constitute less than half of the nation’s households.  Thus, whatever the budgetary savings over the past ten years, from the standpoint of the family, welfare reform has failed.

The continued rise in out-of-wedlock births no longer proceeds from just low-income teenagers.  In fact, the NCHS reports that the birthrate among girls 10 to 17 dropped to the lowest level on record.  It is the sharp rise in births among unmarried mothers in their late 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s that accounts for the record levels.  Inspired by such books as Rosanna Hertz’s Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice and Peggy Drexler’s Raising Boys Without Men, these women are moving beyond divorce to dispense with marriage altogether.

It would be a mistake to attribute this trend solely to cultural and lifestyle decadence.  The ongoing sexual revolution is now codified in government policies that do more than discourage family formation: They empower officials to dissolve families and offer generous rewards for doing so.  The growth of unwed childbearing in the middle class, like the older problem...

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