"Young men father children whom they have no intention of caring for, by women whose welfare checks support them. Teenage girls, mired in the same hopelessness, lack sufficient motive to say no to this trap. … It doesn't help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown … mocking the importance of a father by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.' "

The quote hardly needs attribution. Dan Quayle's 1992 Murphy Brown speech is the most famous "family values" message of all. And though it was ridiculed at first, both the Atlantic Monthly and the liberal Bad Subjects soon ran articles titled, "Dan Quayle Was Right."

Was he? A new study from the New York–based Institute for American Values suggests that Quayle—and conventional wisdom—are off, at least in our image of unwed mothers. "The majority of unwed births in the United States today are to adult women in their 20s. These are not 'children having children,' nor are they 'Murphy Browns,' " writes Maggie Gallagher, director of the institute's Marriage Project and coauthor of the forthcoming book The Case for Marriage.

The study, titled "The Age of Unwed Mothers: Is Teenage Pregnancy the Problem?" acknowledges teen pregnancy statistics both horrific (more than 40 percent of girls will get pregnant before their twentieth birthday) and hopeful (teen birth rates dropped 16 percent between 1991 and 1997). But such figures distort the real emergency. "What we have called our 'teen pregnancy' crisis is not really about teenagers," she says in the study. "Nor is it really about pregnancy. It is about the decline of marriage."

Unwed teen moms under the age of 18, the study notes, account for only 13 percent of children born out of wedlock ...

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