By Sarah Torre
The decline of marriage in recent years not only signals trouble for the men and women missing out on the stability of the institution; it can also threaten the future success of children born outside the economic protection of marriage. The 41 percent of children born in the U.S. to never-married mothers are at a higher risk of experiencing poverty at some point in their lifetimes than are those born to married parents.
With a high rate of unwed childbearing among young women and a lack of education among never-married mothers, a child born outside of marriage has a greater chance of sharing in his or her mother’s economic plight. Single, unwed mothers are often young and ill-equipped to maintain an adequate income to support a family. Just under 40 percent of unwed childbearing occurs to women in their early 20s, and those with less than a high school diploma are eight times more likely to give birth outside of marriage than are college-educated women.
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Households headed by single females have two-fifths the median income of married families. Even among married families with only one income, the single mother’s average salary is still lower. This relative lack of income means a child born to an unwed mother is six times more likely to experience poverty than the same child born to married parents. In fact, over half of children raised by a single mother currently live in poverty. Most startling, while poverty rates are higher among unmarried women regardless of race, almost half of African-Americans live in a single-parent household.
Children born outside of marriage often struggle with a host of hindrances to social mobility including emotional and behavioral problems, poor academic performance, and an increased risk of criminal activity.
Thankfully, there are ways that individuals, community leaders, and policymakers can help alleviate childhood poverty. By encouraging marriage in low-income communities, teaching adolescents and young adults the economic and social benefits of marriage, and reducing policy disincentives to marriage, more children can avoid the pain of poverty.
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To learn more about National Marriage Week and find a community event near you, visit nationalmarriageweekusa.org.