Last November, Jesse Washington, a writer for the Associated Press, published an article entitled, “Blacks struggle with 72 percent unwed mothers rate.” A reaction emerged on the blogosphere as swiftly and pervasive as an itchy rash. I read through a couple of dozen or so. Right wing. Left wing. No wing. All wings flew on strong currents of blame. I had to think about all this.
I looked up some related statistics straight from the source: The National Center for Health Statistics.
Aside from the 72% rate for black women, 66% of Native American babies are born to a single mom. 53% Hispanic. 29% white. 17% Asian. The overall U.S. rate is 40%. Back in 1950 it was 4%.
Here is an excerpt from the report by the National Center for Health Statistics:
“From 1995 to 2002, the nonmarital birth rate for black women declined 12%. Rates for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women were essentially unchanged during these years. In the recent period 2002–2006, birth rates for unmarried non-Hispanic white women rose by 14% and for black women by 9%, while the rates climbed 20% for Hispanic women and 24% for API (Asian Pacific Islander) women.”
“The upward trend in nonmarital childbearing seen in the United States is matched in most developed countries, with levels at least doubling or tripling and in some cases increasing many multiples between 1980 and the mid-2000s.”
The report brought out some interesting contrasts. Reading it gave me a much more factual look at it than the headlines screamed last November. Black women certainly did not deserve the top billing. The facts show the opposite of the bloggers’ conclusions. First off, the rate for black women actually declined by 12% from 1995-2002 while everyone else stayed the same. White unmarried women shot up by 14% during the period 2002-2006 while black women rose 9%. The lowest of any group during that time.
Additionally, the statistics in other industrialized nations revealed that the phenomena of nonmarital childbearing is actually more rampant in Scandinavia. The report contains a 2007 chart that shows Iceland at 66% having the highest percentage of the 14 countries represented. Sweden, Norway, France and Denmark take the top five spots. The U.S. is smack in the middle at 40%. Japan has the lowest rate at 2%.
Also, the statistics for teenage unwed mothers really surprised me. In 1970: 50% of unmarried mothers were teenagers; 42% were aged 20-29; and 8% were over 30 years old. In 2007: unwed teenage moms decreased to 23%; the 20-29 bracket increased to 60%; the over 30 category grew to 17%.
What does this all mean? Well, for one thing, looking at the research hiding behind the article and the blogospheral rants uncovered a few refreshing facts that sucked the sap out of the sensational knee-jerk reactionary raving. It also made me think that the stories associated with any social trend are varied. For example, why are the unwed mother rates doubling and tripling in Europe? In Jesse Washington’s article he noted that there is a “link between behavior and poverty.” The behavior of the European women is not driven by poverty. It is a social evolution that has changed the norms of acceptable family structures. It’s okay to be living together and not married in Europe and have children. Japan’s low rate of unwed motherhood tells the story of a culture with a completely different set of social standards.
The stats on the decrease in teenage unwed mothers might have something to do with a more savvy set of kids who know the importance of birth control. Whereas, the increase in the 20-29 group shows the social acceptance of choosing to be a single mother. Back in my days in the corporate world, I knew several women who had no desire to get married, but wanted to enjoy motherhood. These were white, Asian and black women in San Francisco in the ’90s.
But let’s get back to the unwed black mother. Her choices, direct or indirect, have nothing to do with poverty. Not all black unwed mothers are poor and on welfare. Some are business professionals making a choice. Some are women who say that they feel confident to raise a child on their own. And some are from backgrounds of extreme poverty, live on welfare and choose to get pregnant.
One thing I think they all have in common – all races – all socioeconomic levels – all ages – is this: they just want somebody to love them. Love isn’t part of everyone’s childhood. It’s not a given. It doesn’t come guaranteed just because you happen to have a mother and a father or just a mother or just a father or just a grandmother or a foster parent or anyone else raising you. No, love doesn’t come in the box of life. Batteries are not included.
Love doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes we have to learn how to love. The young women who choose to become mothers know that their babies will love them, instantly. But what if the baby gets a mother who doesn’t instantly love them?