In and Out of Wedlock
by Jan Baughman

Sometime, somewhere, some demographer decided that it was important to report on the rate of out-of-wedlock (OOW) births. Any REAL statistician will tell you that before analyzing data, one must pose a hypothesis. Is there some piece of information to be gleaned from this figure that relates to the future of that baby (for example, low birth weight is a predictor of perinatal complications)? Or is it merely an indicator of our annual morality temperature? For example, "In 1994, 33% of all babies in the U.S. were born to amoral couples, compared with 6% in 1960". Our immorality has skyrocketed but, beyond that, what more can one infer? That 33% of these babies will grow up to be immoral themselves? One must also consider the 67% of babies born IN wedlock. Of those, 50% will see their parents get out of wedlock. Therefore, only 33.5% of the babies born in 1994 stand a chance to grow up as good, righteous adults. Moreover, considering that some percent of them will not actually reach adulthood, we can expect less than a third of the newly voting population in the year 2012 to be decent.

What percent of OOW babies' parents go on to become wedlocked, to each other or otherwise? And does the risk to the OOW child dissipate once the custodial parent (normally, the mother) becomes wedlocked? Of course, there still remains that 50% risk of the newly-married parents unlocking, but the probability is significantly reduced for the OOW children-whose custodian-marries/remarries as compared to the in-wedlock child whose parents divorce ante partum.

Now, any statistician can tell you that statistics are only as sound as the data from which they come and the variables selected for analysis. And, just like with the unemployment rate, we can change our definition of "out-of-wedlock" to demonstrate positive trends in this country. For example, it used to be that if a birth certificate listed two parents with different surnames, they were presumed unmarried and thus contributed to OOW birth to the database. The census taker who studies marital habits was able to demonstrate a trend toward fewer (educated, enlightened) women taking their husband's name, therefore, this assumption no longer held true and the OOW rate subsequently fell insignificantly.

Concurrent with the increase in the OOW birth rate has been an increase in the fertility rate; perhaps the two are correlated. The present U.S. fertility rate is approximately 2 babies/woman, just the number needed to sustain a population, up from 1.8 in 1975. As morality decreases, more babies must be born to increase the crude number of moral citizens. Convoluting this theorem is the possibility that the less moral one is (read as: the less responsible), the more babies one will produce. Or is it that the more fertile a woman is, the less likely a man is to want to marry her? In Japan, only 1% of births are OOW and they have one of the lowest birthrates at 1.4 babies/woman. Japan doesn't need to have a lot of babies because those that ARE born are highly moral. Of course, if they continue at the present rate, they will find themselves extinct in the fourth millennium. Extinct, but highly regarded.

Eventually, we will have to accept the fact that there are alternate lifestyles that can support a child as well or better than the traditional married-to-the-opposite-sex couple. One good parent is statistically significantly more qualified to raise a child than two bad ones, one good one and one bad one, or two marginal ones. In the distant future, the classification of births according to wedlock status will cease, and the census takers will merely check a box that states "functional environment" or "dysfunctional environment". Then, and only then, will the statisticians be able to make something useful of these data.

Published October 09, 1996
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