It's not remarkable to say our culture is confused when it comes to family. But the results of the recent Pew Research Center study on marriage and children are remarkable nonetheless.

The survey confirms that Christian notions about marriage and family are still an American ideal. The growth in births to unwed mothers is a "big problem," say 71 percent of Americans. They agree (69 percent) that children need both a mother and a father. Even as rates of births to unwed mothers have skyrocketed, this strong disapproval has held steady.

But the survey also notes that Americans are less able to live up to their ideals: Roughly 37 percent of births are to unwed mothers, and nearly half (47 percent) of adults have lived in cohabitating relationships.

"Marriage exerts less influence over how adults organize their lives and how children are born and raised than at any time in the nation's history," the survey says. Between 1960 and 2005, the rate of unwed childbearing increased sevenfold, from 5.3 percent of all births to 36.8 percent. The survey finds that the average unwed mother "is more likely to be white than black, and more likely to be an adult than a teenager. …" The survey attributes this "sharp increase in non-marital births" to "an ever greater percentage of women in the 20s, 30s, and older … delaying or forgoing marriage but having children."

We can be thankful that the public still disapproves of out-of-wedlock births in general. But more Americans than ever naively think they alone can make single-parenting work.

Day-to-day realities slowly undermine this optimism. Single parents who have been at it awhile know better than anyone how less than ideal their situation is. That's one reason we can expect to see more ...

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Christianity Today
The Fatherless Child
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October 2007

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