“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J.
Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University.
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One big reason is the soaring cost of ushering offspring to functional independence.
According to the Department of Agriculture, the average middle-class couple will spend $241,080 to raise a child to age 18.
More than one-quarter of these unwed mothers are living with a partner who may or may not be their child’s biological father.
The rise of the cohabiting couple is another striking feature of the evolving American family: From 1996 to 2012, the number jumped almost 170 percent, to 7.8 million from 2.9 million.
Nor are unmarried mothers typically in their teens; contrary to all the talk of an epidemic of teenage motherhood, the birthrate among adolescent girls has dropped by nearly half since 1991 and last year hit an all-time low, a public health triumph that experts attribute to better sex education and birth-control methods.
Most unmarried mothers today, demographers say, are in their 20s and early 30s.Also démodé is the old debate over whether mothers of dependent children should work outside the home.The facts have voted, the issue is settled, and Paycheck Mommy is now a central organizing principle of the modern American family.As a result, 41 percent of babies are now born out of wedlock, a fourfold increase since 1970.The trend is not demographically uniform, instead tracking the nation’s widening gap in income and opportunity.“We’re seeing a class divide not only between the haves and the have-nots, but between the I do’s and the I do nots,” Dr. Those who are enjoying the perks of a good marriage “wouldn’t stand for any other kind,” she said, while those who would benefit most from marital stability “are the ones least likely to have the resources to sustain it.” Yet across the divide runs a white picket fence, our unshakable star-spangled belief in the value of marriage and family. “It means everything,” said Linda Mc Adam, 28, who is in human resources on Long Island. “It’s almost like a weight,” said Rob Fee, 26, a financial analyst in San Francisco, “a heavy weight.” Or as the comedian George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” In charting the differences between today’s families and those of the past, demographers start with the kids — or rather the lack of them.