Remember the old children's song, "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage?" Once, it was more than a song, it was a universal recognition of how most families come into being. But now, a new tune is being sung, and it is decidedly off-key.
A paper is about to released by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows a major change in our culture. The Center reports that for the first time in over the last ten years, "shotgun cohabitations" outdistance "shotgun marriages." Translated, it means once, when a couple conceived a child out-of-wedlock, they would marry to save face and remove the stigma of illegitimacy. Now, they simply move in together, and skip the wedding.
Data from the government's National Survey of Family Growth states that from 2006 to 2010, 18 percent of all single, pregnant women chose to move in with the baby's father, compared to 5.3 percent who opted for marriage when a child was conceived. In the 1990's, almost 25 percent of couples that conceived before marriage would wed. During that same period, out-of-wedlock cohabiting births have grown from 11 to 24 percent.
Researchers point out that this growing trend will continue in the years ahead, as there is no longer a stigma for out-of-wedlock births. Some even refer to the concept of cohabitation as a "poor person's marriage," prompting some policy wonks to demand inclusion of cohabitants in proposals for dealing with the poor.
But herein lays a paradox.
Ironically, the same week the new report on "shotgun cohabitations" was released also marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's "unconditional war on poverty." His famous declaration launched a myriad of federal and state programs designed specifically to eradicate poverty, some of which remain in place today. Several programs were successful in lifting people out of poverty, most were not.
One glaringly crucial issue weaves itself through both the report on cohabitation and the war on poverty – fatherlessness.
The U.S. Census bureau reports that children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families. The Department of Health and Human Services notes that children living in female headed families with no spouse present had a poverty rate of 47.6 percent, over 4 times the rate in married-couple families.
Children can be plunged into poverty without a Dad and cohabitation does nothing to ensure that Dad will stick around. Studies show that only about half of cohabitating Dads are still around five years after a child is born.
If we are truly serious, as a nation, about giving children the very best and working to eradicate poverty (that is often the same goal) we would collectively work to preserve, promote and protect traditional marriage in this country. It meets both goals with immeasurable success.
There is a very good reason why the right order of things is and always has been: love, marriage and then a baby carriage. It's more than a little ditty; it's a profoundly protective truth. May we continue to sing that harmonious message!