Waiting to get married to have children is becoming a thing of the past, at least for women who don't have a college degree.
Several studies over the past few years have found that the number of single mothers is surpassing the number of married mothers. The study "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America," a report from the National Marriage Project, called the trend "The Great Crossover." And a new study presented at the Population Association of America found a direct correlation between education levels and the likelihood of having a child out of wedlock.
The less education a woman has, the more likely she is to have a baby without being married. Eighty-seven percent of women without a high school diploma have a child out of wedlock. The number decreases to 71 percent for high school graduates, 67 percent for women with one to three years of college and 32 percent for women with four or more years of college.
“The clear line is whether you have a four-year college degree,” the study's lead author, Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin, told The Atlantic. “There are two clear paths through adulthood — one for people who have a bachelor's degree and one for people who don't."
He explained that less-educated women are having children out of wedlock mainly because they don't see many other options. They aren't going to college, they aren't advancing professionally and having a child is an indicator of adulthood they can't achieve through other means.
Another reason young women often have children before marriage is because they see marriage as a "capstone" of life, rather than a "cornerstone," according to the "Knot Yet" report. Marriage is difficult to obtain, something that can only be achieved after financial stability has been reached.
But having children out of wedlock can make it difficult to attain that financial stability. A study by The Heritage Foundation found that 36.5 percent of single-parent families live in poverty. For two-parent families, the percentage is 6.4.
"Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline," the report says. "As husbands disappear from the home, poverty and welfare dependence will increase, and children and parents will suffer as a result."
Children born to married parents, particularly when the parents are in a stable relationship, do better in the long run, according to a Deseret News article. While each individual case is different, and single parenthood doesn't necessitate instability and problems, experts agree that stability is best for the children.
"Unmarried couples are three times as likely to break up by a child’s fifth birthday as those who are married," Kay Hymowitz, a Manhattan Institute fellow, told Deseret News. "That often means absent fathers, higher risk of school failure, greater emotional turmoil, more early pregnancy themselves."
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.