Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mama's baby, Papa's maybe - If the latest data from the CDC are any indication, there is seemingly no upper limit on out-of-wedlock birth rates. According to the the most current statistics, nearly 35% of all live births in 2003 were to unmarried women. This rate represents an all-time high since 1970, and is bolstered by a 45.0% illegitimacy rate for Hispanics and a 68.2% rate for blacks. (The rate for whites is 29.4%.) It is clear that these dismal figures are the result of decoupling of the the cart of procreation from the horse of matrimony within the culture. What is not clear - particularly with the availability of contraception and abortion on demand - is why more pregnancies occur under these circumstances to begin with.

My sense is that the rise in out-of-wedlock births is of a piece with much of what else has befallen society in the wake of modern feminism.
Feminism has ordered itself around protection of the "right to choose" as opposed to meeting the emotional needs of young women who must often make difficult choices. It concerns itself with mere options as opposed to affirming women's self-esteem. In order to fit in with current societal conventions, young women and adolescent girls in particular have to yield to the pressures and temptations to look and behave a certain way or be exiled to social oblivion.

By yielding to the larger society in this regard, feminism helped to establish the idea that the self-esteem of women is derived from the opinions of others, as opposed to it deriving from women doing estimable things. Young men in particular are acutely aware of the acceptability of sexual buccaneering. And as is its nature, this sort of sexual predation demands new conquests and creates new victims, most of them being the very young women that feminism claims to champion.

In as much as feminism has fortified itself around the precept of establishing equality between the sexes in every area, to include sexuality, men have been the primary beneficiaries of its efforts. Indeed, unlike in decades past, young men can expect to have haphazard sexual encounters with as many women as their taste for variety and physical stamina dictate. They can choose to cohabitate with any one of these women, or with several over time - as in some sort of serial monogamy. Any one of these women will, to varying degrees, cook and clean for them, provide them every connubial blessing and even bear their children, all without benefit of matrimony.

As much has been researched and documented in a study published in the May 1996 Quarterly Journal of Economics. The paper, entitled "An Analysis of Out-of-wedlock Childbearing in the United States," examined the impact of improved access to contraception and legalized abortion on illegitimacy. The authors – George A. Akerlof, Janet L. Yellen and Michael L. Katz – developed two theoretical models in order to conclude that there was a direct and causal link between female contraception and abortion, and the declining "shotgun marriage" rate.

In the first model a decline in the cost of abortion (or increased availability of contraception) decreases the incentives to obtain a promise of marriage if premarital sexual activity results in pregnancy. Those women who will obtain an abortion or who will reliably use contraception no longer find it necessary to condition sexual relations on such promises. Those women who want children, who do not want an abortion for moral or religious reasons, or who are unreliable in their use of contraception, may want marriage guarantees but find themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations without any such assurance. They have been placed at a competitive disadvantage…Sexual activity without commitment is increasingly expected in premarital relationships, immiserating at least some women, since their male partners do not have to assume parental responsibility in order to engage in sexual relations.

A second model illustrates another reason why the previous support system could have been eroded by the advent of female contraception and legal abortion. The fact that the birth of the baby is now a choice of the mother has implications for the decisions of the father. The sexual revolution, by making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, makes marriage and child support a social choice of the father. This second model explores how the decisions of the father depend upon the decisions and opinions of the mother.
The authors go on to assert their theory that new "technologies" to prevent conception led to a "technology shock" that triggered a rise in out-of-wedlock births.
…the legalization of abortion, starting in the late 1960s, induced a large fraction of unmarried women, who were willing to obtain an abortion if pregnant, to engage in premarital sexual relations while forgoing the promise of marriage in the event of a premarital conception. Similarly, the invention of the pill and increased availability of contraception enhanced the willingness of unmarried women to participate in uncommitted, premarital sex by reducing the odds of a pregnancy in the first place. The technology shock thereby triggered the behavioral shifts depicted in our two static models. Women who wanted to bear children were immiserated because their competitive position, and thereby their ability to bargain for the marriage guarantee, deteriorated, as in our first model. Moreover, their partners’ degree of empathy and willingness to marry after the fact, may also have declined once it was apparent that the woman herself was unwilling to obtain an abortion.
Simply put, if women forswear "reproductive choice" and yield instead to their maternal instincts – which is to say, if they yield to their essential humanity – they are penalized by way of "immiseration" as men counter women’s physical choices with their own social choices. The grisly machinery of abortion and the gadgetry of contraception have given women a sort of control over reproduction; to be sure, fertility rates (especially among teens) have gone down significantly over recent years. However, there is no doubt that for those women who have given birth, the odds of the child being born with the benefit of married parents have decreased significantly as well. The question is what will happen to out-of-wedlock birthrates now that American women can shield their ova behind yet another layer of defilade in the form of the emergency contraceptive "Plan B?"

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