Children of the revolution

In a book review in The Family in America, I proposed an analogy: “Today’s young adults are undeniably well-off and thriving materially. They enjoy opportunities and resources unheard of, even among their boomer parents. In terms of family and moral life, however, the appropriate analogy may be the packs of near-feral children who roamed about the countryside after the Communist revolution in Russia. Cut off from the hard-won lessons of tradition, they are emotionally (and sometimes physically) vulnerable not only to predators but also to the consequences of bad choices, consequences that still rear their ugly heads, even in the face of denial.”

The increase in children born to cohabiting couples is the most recent data point on the effects borne by children of the sexual revolution. A recent CDC study shows the percentage of children born to unwed mothers increased from 37.7 percent in 2002 to 45.5 percent in 2006-2010. Of these, the percentage born to women who were cohabiting grew from 12.4 percent to 23.6 percent. 

In the USA Today story about the study, a sociology professor at the University of Texas-Austin, Kelly Raley, argues that the increase can be partially attributed to the growth in cohabitation. However, “‘I’m not sure it’s just about cohabitation,’ she says. ‘It just could be that it’s OK now to have a kid outside of marriage.’” Dr. Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia explains to Time magazine the implications of this demographic shift:

“The challenge is kids with cohabiting parents are three times more likely to experience their parents’ break-up by the age of 5 than kids with married parents,” says Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and associate professor of sociology. “They have less stability, security, legal and cultural support.” As a consequence, Wilcox says kids in cohabiting homes are more likely to experience emotional problems, struggle in school and be more likely to use drugs later in life, compared with children of married parents. Based on his own research, kids in cohabiting homes do just as poorly in these areas as kids with single parents. “The fact is cohabiting relationships have remarkably lower levels of commitment. It gives the couple more flexibility, but less stability to the kids born into these relationships,” says Wilcox.”

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