Generation Unbound

Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage

Isabel V. Sawhill
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Generation Unbound
    Book Description:

    Over half of all births to young adults in the United States now occur outside of marriage, and many are unplanned. The result is increased poverty and inequality for children. The left argues for more social support for unmarried parents; the right argues for a return to traditional marriage.

    InGeneration Unbound, Isabel V. Sawhill offers a third approach: change "drifters" into "planners." In a well-written and accessible survey of the impact of family structure on child well-being, Sawhill contrasts "planners," who are delaying parenthood until after they marry, with "drifters," who are having unplanned children early and outside of marriage. These two distinct patterns are contributing to an emerging class divide and threatening social mobility in the United States.

    Sawhill draws on insights from the new field of behavioral economics, showing that it is possible, by changing the default, to move from a culture that accepts a high number of unplanned pregnancies to a culture in which adults only have children when they are ready to be a parent.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2559-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ONE An Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Ashley is a 22-year-old single woman from a working-class neighborhood. She is attending community college, hoping to become a medical technician. She gets pregnant and drops out of school. Neither Ashley nor her boyfriend, Eric, has a steady job. They don’t believe in abortion. A baby is born; within two years they have split up and Ashley has a new boyfriend, with whom she has a second baby.

    Sam and Stephanie met in medical school. Now they are both doctors in their early thirties. They have one child. A full-time nanny from Peru is teaching the child to be bilingual....

  5. TWO The End of Marriage?
    (pp. 16-38)

    For most Americans in the generations that came of age in the first half of the twentieth century, marriage was the definitive marker of adulthood. Young adults did not leave their childhood home until they entered their marital home. During the 1950s and 1960s, when I was growing up, there was a single life script for young adults with only limited deviations from that script. You finished school, you got a job, you married, and you had children, all in that order. If you were a young woman, that job was more often than not simply a way station before...

  6. THREE Why Should We Worry?
    (pp. 39-64)

    When all is said and done, why do changes in family life in the United States matter? The family, after all, is a voluntarily chosen set of arrangements, codified in laws about marriage, divorce, and the benefits available to different kinds of families, but still primarily a private affair. From a libertarian perspective, there is a powerful argument that we should let a thousand family flowers bloom.

    The problem with the purely libertarian perspective, however, is that family living arrangements and behaviors do have consequences for individuals within the family and for society. In particular, the growth in the number...

  7. FOUR A Growing Class Divide
    (pp. 65-82)

    Let me begin with a story about the diverging destinies of two young women.

    The first young woman, Christina, graduated from high school and went on to attend community college, where she earned a certificate that enabled her to get a job with a beauty salon in her hometown. Robert, her boyfriend since high school, is a clerk at Target. Both are in their early twenties and very much in love. They have been spending much of their free time together, and when his lease expires he moves into her one-bedroom apartment to save on rent. Christina had been taking...

  8. FIVE Traditionalists and Village Builders
    (pp. 83-104)

    Almost everyone is surprised to learn that unwed childbearing is the new normal. The great crossover sums up the situation: the average age of marriage is now later than the average age at which women have a first baby. The baby carriage now comes before the ring. And fewer and fewer people are even bothering with the ring. With the exception of college-educated elites, young adults are drifting into relationships and into childbearing without marriage.

    Some believe this trend is benign, but most people—including most experts—find it troubling. As Ron Haskins and I put it in our book...

  9. SIX Childbearing by Design, Not by Default
    (pp. 105-128)

    Teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined. That progress has been dramatic, as noted earlier. But over the past decade or so we have discovered a new problem: high rates of pregnancy and births to unmarried women in their twenties (see figure 6 in the appendix). We also saw that even when these women are living with the father of the child at the time of the child’s birth, these relationships typically break up, creating a lot of instability in the child’s life. The consequences of single parenthood and of the increasingly common practice of serial cohabitation are not benign....

  10. SEVEN The Future: Less Marriage, Fewer Children?
    (pp. 129-148)

    We already have a great diversity of families and household types in the United States. One might wonder, then, what families will look like as we move forward. What is in store for the future of marriage and children? Will we one day become a society in which more and more people simply live alone and women who bear children raise them on their own? Will fertility continue to decline to the point where we cannot replace our current population and it begins to shrink? Will greater affluence and better education cause more people to adopt the married lifestyles and...

  11. Appendix
    (pp. 149-154)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 155-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-209)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 210-210)