Oct 17, 2018

New normal: Out of wedlock births have stabilized

Data: Council of Europe (2006), NIPSSR (2017), Eurostat (2018), and Martin et al. (2018) via United Nations Population Fund; Note: Final values for Russia and Japan are from 2015; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

While having a baby without being married was uncommon and stigmatized several decades ago, it's becoming the norm in many European countries — and even the U.S., according to a report released today by the United Nations Population Fund.

Why it matters: If having babies without being married becomes increasingly common, it could help stabilize falling fertility rates and avoid an aging, childless future, Michael Herrmann, a senior adviser for economics and demography at UNFPA, told Axios. But it's also likely to lead to more cultural friction, as social conservatives are unlikely to accept more births outside marriage.

How we got here: Demographers point to three key trends that have led to the rise in births outside of marriage:

  • The decline in importance of traditional marriage. While non-traditional forms of cohabitation have become more acceptable in many Western cultures, the social revolution has been much slower in many Asian cultures. That's why births outside of marriage are still rare in places such as Japan and Korea, Herrmann said.
  • Increased opportunity for women to obtain an education and launch successful careers has enabled them to provide for themselves without a husband. Many women, even if living with men, are opting to "keep their legal options open," said Richard Cincotta, director of the Global Political Demography Program at the Stimson Center.
  • More American men are facing unemployment or underemployment, drug use, and jail "due to the loss of secure, well-paid blue collar jobs," Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told Axios.

One notable exception: Russia also saw an increase in births outside of marriage in the 1980s and 1990s, when alcoholism and male mortality rose during the chaos following the collapse of communism, according to Goldstone.

  • But beginning in the early 2000s — as Vladimir Putin came to power — the share of births outside of marriage began to fall. Demographers say that's partly because of Putin's emphasis on traditional family values and new policies encouraging married couples to have more children.

The other side: The trend causes concern for social conservatives. "There's an abundance of evidence in the U.S. to indicate that children are better off with a married mother and father," Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told Axios. He added that the increase in births outside of marriage "portends less stability for children."

What to watch: While many of these unmarried parents are in committed relationships, others end up as single parents, and "ending up as a single parent means a huge burden," Herrmann said. Single mothers in the U.S., for example, are some of the most likely people to end up in poverty.

  • Developed nations that want to encourage higher fertility rates will need to find ways to provide more support for both single parents and married parents, Herrmann said.
  • Sweden and the Netherlands, for example, have some of the most generous support systems for new parents, including free child care and extensive paternity and maternity leave. They've managed to partially reverse the broader trend of people having fewer kids.

Go deeper

Mass shooting in Milwaukee: What we know

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2012. Photo: John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

Six people died in a shooting at the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Milwaukee on Wednesday, including the gunman, Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at a Wednesday evening press conference with local police.

Details: All of the victims worked at the brewery complex, as did the shooter who died of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," police confirmed in a statement late Wednesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus updates: South Korea case count tops 2,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

33 people in California have tested positive for the coronavirus, and health officials are monitoring 8,400 people who have recently returned from "points of concern," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,850 people and infected over 83,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica, and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

Syria's darkest chapter

Family room without a family, in Idlib. Photo: Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The worst humanitarian crisis of Syria’s brutal civil war is colliding today with what could be the war’s most dangerous geopolitical showdown, after at least 29 Turkish troops were killed in an airstrike.

The big picture: The fighting is taking place in Idlib in northwest Syria, where a ferocious Syrian and Russian offensive has displaced 1 million civilians and infuriated Turkey, which borders the region.

Go deeperArrow4 hours ago - World