The Social Capital Project run through Mike Lee’s Senate office has released the second of its series of reports, this one on the rise in unmarried births, following up on their excellent report on the opioid crisis earlier in the Fall.
I think if you pay attention to these issues, the large percentage of births to unwed mothers may no longer be especially shocking. Because both wed and unwed births have declined in the last few years, this percentage has plateaued at a bit under half of births.
What does feel remarkable, however, is not the increase in unmarried births but how asymptotic the retreat from marriage itself has become in recent years. While the 70s and 80s were dramatic changes from the 50s and 60s in terms of the rates at which women remained single, they were not unprecedented, since more women had remained single prior to World War II than after. The percentages of young people who are now single are pretty much brand new territory, and the rate of change appears to be accelerating rather than slowing.
Richard Posner pointed out in a 1999 essay that while strict rules regarding sexual behavior in the workplace and punishment for sexual harassment may or may not benefit women in general, it is likely to benefit single women more.
The current sexual harassment “moment” has many causes, but declining and delayed marriage and reduced expectations of marriage in the future, must be among them.