Unmarried Parents – the Fathers

It takes two to tango, so when public-health officials examine the troubling rise in out-of-wedlock births, they need to look not only at unmarried mothers. Unmarried fatherhood thus defines the focus of a study recently completed by scholars from Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The researchers begin their inquiry acutely aware “that nonmarital fatherhood has consequences for men’s future socioeconomic trajectories and well-being and is linked to disadvantaged outcomes for children.” Underscoring the need for this inquiry, the Columbia and Madison scholars point to “the high and rising fraction of births outside of marriage, the instability and low economic resources in nonmarital unions, and the importance of fathers for children’s development and well-being.” Such concerns are hard to dismiss given that “the prevalence of nonmarital births in the United States has increased dramatically in recent decades, with the fraction of births occurring outside of marriage rising sixfold in the latter half of the twentieth century.” Recent statistics, in fact, reveal that “in 2010, fully 41% of all U.S. births occurred to unmarried parents, with even higher proportions among racial and ethnic minorities: 53% of Hispanic births and 73% of black births.” No wonder, then, that “nonmarital childbearing has generated considerable attention from both researchers and policymakers alike, particularly with respect to the implications for women and children.” To identify the young men most likely to father a child out of wedlock, the researchers pore over two nationally representative sets of data. One of these comes from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), based on interviews conducted in 2002 with 4,928 men born between 1957 and 1987. The other comes from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) for the 1979 cohort, a survey providing information about 6,403 men born between 1957 and 1964, all interviewed
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