If These Marriage Trends Continue, the Word “Father” Will Soon Be Obsolete

By NICK CHILES

As a married man with three children, I was extremely disturbed by a story I saw over the weekend in the New York Times: For the first time in America, more than half of the births to women under 30 now occur outside marriage.

The story presages a depressingly hopeless future for many American children because of a simple fact that we can’t avoid: children born to married couples still are more likely to graduate from college, have a higher income and have fewer emotional and behavioral problems. As the Times story points out, what this means is that we are increasingly forming two social classes—the well-educated, who wait until they are married to have kids and who are able to lead their children to college graduation and higher incomes, in a cycle that repeats itself; and the lower-educated mothers and fathers who have children out of wedlock and consequently see their children fail to graduate from college and wind up with lower incomes, in another cycle that repeats itself.

As I read the Times piece, what I came away with was the notion that the value and purpose of men in our society is undergoing a disturbing diminution. As men become less competent, less able to make a living, less able to support and lift a family, women are finding it less necessary to be married to one. After all, as we’ve heard it said by women over and over, “I can do bad by myself.” So while this story on its surface seems to be about the choices women are making, just below the surface it’s clear the story is really about how unappealing and unnecessary men are becoming as life partners to women.

I have always placed a great deal of value in being both a husband and father—realizing that there are immeasurable qualities that I bring to my family: things like helping my wife deal with the challenges of being a talented and ambitious woman and mother in this difficult age, and also giving my children the emotional strength and fortitude to meet whatever obstacles fly their way. As I raised a son who is now on the verge of being a man himself, I knew that one of my most important jobs was to mold him into a viable partner for a future wife—to give him the tools that would enable him to be strong, successful, inviting for some lovely young lady. It’s important to keep this particular cycle going—my father did it for me; I did it for my boy; if he is blessed with a son or more of his own he will do the same thing for them. That’s how this is supposed to work. But clearly, the cycle has broken down in many segments of our society—particularly in the African-American community.

When you consider the entire population of mothers, a solid majority—59 percent—are married when they have children (which means 41 percent aren’t married). But nearly two-thirds of children in the U.S. are born to mothers under 30, meaning their statistics will dominate the field. Among that population of under-30 mothers, 53 percent of the children are born outside of marriage. For the black community, the numbers are staggering: 73 percent of black children are born outside marriage (compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites).

Women will always be overcome with the biological need to have babies, regardless of their station in life. But the need to be attached to a husband? Not so much—especially if the men you see around you are bringing nothing to the table. That’s where the societal expectation is now crumbling. Men are not stepping up. Too often, they are not desirable life partners. Which leaves women feeling like they have no choice but to shoulder the entire burden. Alone. Since I know we are not as a society and a community going to endeavor to convince women to stop having babies, I must turn my attention to the men. We are in danger of becoming irrelevant. Pointless. Sperm donors. We must decide right now that this is not acceptable. If we don’t, these numbers will just get worse, the cycles will get deeper. And one day we will walk into certain communities and find that the word “father” is obsolete.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

12 Comments

  1. I think we need to realize that the roles are reversing. It is becoming hard for men to find jobs and easier for us women. And I don’t think the fact that a man doesn’t make x amount of dollars or have a job working for a Fortune 500 company should make him less desirable. What you could missing out on is someone who’s going to be faithful, loyal, honest, a lifetime partner and wonderful parent.

    It’s time to start teaching our children to look beyond the surface when it comes to finding a husband/wife. Yes, we can do bad all by ourselves, but why do it alone when there’s potentially someone out there to share the load with?

  2. I think we also need to realize that not all single motherhood is by choice. Yes there are people who choose to have a baby alone, but some have circumstances that could not be helped. For example, my husband died last month unexpectedly.
    I did not want to be a single mother and I wanted my child to live in a 2 parent household since I didn’t (my father died when I was young). However it is exactly situations like mine and many others that need to be understood for anyone to fully understand a complete picture of the above quoted empty statistics

    • Although I think the NYT article and Nick’s reflection above are interesting and do demonstrate a trend of men being somewhat eradicated from the family unit, I did pause when reading the original article and wonder how many of those under 30 single women are a results of husbands lost in war? I was in college during 9/11 and I remember a mass enlisting that took place on campus. Degree-bound men (and women, but mostly men) were signing up in droves. A lot of them got married soon after graduation and went off to war and are still serving multiple tours abroad (or sadly are dead). The fact is the military breeds families, most of which are young, and encourages children.
      Does this article take into account that for the past decade we have been at war and many 20-30 something fathers have died in said war(s)?

      Or in general, just husbands who have died in general (as in your situation)?

      Sending you much love and strength Addie, I can only imagine!

    • Addie, so sorry to hear about your husband. I send out prayers to you and your family as you struggle through what must be a harrowing ordeal. But I just wanted to point out that you may be reading the statistics incorrectly. These numbers would not include situations like yours or husbands who died in war. This statistic is about children who are born to parents who aren’t married, not about children who are currently living in a single-parent household due to death or divorce. Just wanted to clear that up.

  3. This to me is a sad, but true article. It should simply not be this way. Our children need their mothers and their fathers to guide them. We NEED each other. I hope with men and writers like you, the men and women in our society will one day realize that we all have a role in this life of raising children and its vital for their success and ours. I truly hope we can get it together in my lifetime. I have 3 daughters that I raise to be outstanding women and I pray that one day they will find outstanding men and raise outstanding children. That is one of my prayers.

  4. This is a really good opinion on fatherhood in America. Although I do not agree with this statement “Women will always be overcome with the biological need to have babies, regardless of their station in life.” I was not one to care about having children and I am pushing 35. I believe that the gift of being married or having a child is a blessing and is something given from God. This is really not my decision if I should be a parent. But, if I am blessed with this gift, I pray I will be in a health partnership with a loving husband.

  5. One thing the NYT article leaves out though- journalism tends to stop where an academic analysis begins- is that, as these trends normalize in the society, the problems associated with single female parenthood in the past, may likely fade. Many of those problems currently and previously associated with single parenthood stem from the stigma associated with such families, both from society and from extended family that may not approve of a woman’s choices. As single parenthood becomes more normalized, greater social support within extended families, as well as other shifting social contexts may help eliminate the single mom-struggling child phenomenon.

    For example, we are getting a new health care system which may ease some of the financial burden on single moms, freeing up her financial and time resources in ways that help her provide more support and stability to her children. Also, increasingly, highly educated women are choosing the single mom route- women with high incomes- because such women are less willing to “settle” or accept submissive gender roles, just in order to marry and breed.

    My main point is that as the single mom birth rate increases, other social changes are also happening that may render past problems with single parenthood, irrelevant. The single-mom birth rate increase is not a linear variable operating in isolation.

  6. The concept of a man and a woman raising a child is an age old practice. Although we’d like to think that the problem surrounding a family not having a father around is just related to stigma and money, it goes way deeper than that. Father’s are needed for self-knowledge, self-love, self-developement, self-efficacy, and a positive self-image. Father’s are needed to support children and mothers. It will take a long while for societal supports to catch up to the kind of support that fathers naturally provide.

    Meanwhile we women and men need to work together to change our community and our country. The same men and women who were raised without fathers have to learn to be good mothers and fathers. That means character building. That means learning commitment. That means learning how to love ourselves and how to love others. That means giving up selfishness, and that means putting the breaks on rolling out when things get too heavy. The very same women who choose disposable men to father their children, long for love and support. The very same men who choose to walk off and leave a family, long for someone to trust and to love.

    We are right here for each other, but we have to gain education and learn how to love. We have to commit to providing our children with the best start. If we can’t give them the best start, then we have to commit to providing them with something (step-dad, God, Grandfather, Coach) that will carry them through to the point of being successful adults. It’s not time for denial and blame, it’s time for each of us to look inside of ourselves and see what we can offer the children of America.

  7. I appreciate the discussion and Nick’s take on the news article but like Dee stated in her post above, the stats do seem cold. Rather than searching, interpreting and posting stats I recall watching some special on television (maybe 60 minutes) a while back about the high rates of single parent births in Scandinavian countries. Their single parent birth statistics seemed to smash the rates in comparison to children born to single white mothers in USA.
    As a single-parent adult child of a still married couple (40 yrs), I find the constant criticism and shaming of parenting lifestyles causes the most damage to family units “parent(s) and child(ren)” more so than the numbers. Black single parents are rarely free of the “isms” of life, and some of their married friends and family members (both poor and better-off financially) who elevate their marital status seem to neglect to promote the advancement of black people across the board with such discriminating attitudes. I’ve had the fortune to witness parents’ single, married, divorced and widowed raise successful children and the some parents have children making it through life. Understandably, the financial status of any parent(s) will have a significant impact on their ability to provide for and assist their children to lead successful lives; just as the educational level of said parents will assist in raising successful children. We’re all striving to do our best to raise our children to reach and exceed their potential!
    What I would go on to state is there’s far too much work to be done for mothers to raise their children, and their children’s father. Men-fathers need to learn to fly by the seat of their pants just as women do, if and when necessary. Men will always be relevant and should demand to be a part of their children’s lives and never choose to not play a leading and significant role! Men who hope and pray for another man to come along and marry your “baby’s momma” (begrudgingly posted) need to realize this is just not a viable solution even when she moves into a mature, respectful and loving relationship. And just because a woman appears to have it all together at times or all of the time, that should never serve as an excuse not to jump in and assist–at all times and not in just emergency situations. In my opinion, parenting is always the right choice regardless of the circumstances! If you’re mature enough to make them, then be mature enough to raise them to the best of your ability and then some! Just as mothers-women schedule play dates with their kids, fathers-men should adopt their own ways of hanging out with their sons and daughters. None of us should be free to escape the responsibility of mature parenting where we’re creating positive, encouraging, educational and financially supportive environments for our children. Governments in every country should take a good look in the mirror on the matter and how they promote interference on parenting, rather than continuous encouragement on parenting.
    Nick it sounds like you’re the dream dad we all desire for our children. Keep encouraging your male friends both married and single to do the same and perhaps even the single ones can take that next step. Thanks for permitting our replies.

  8. Black people need to find out who they are first. Start with Deuteronomy 28. In that you can find your true identity. Then start calling out these double agent weak sellout pastors and start repenting for what out ancestors did to the Almighty Father( see the book of Judges for a refresher ; ). Then and only then will we be healed. Until then we will continue to be a destroyed people of great pride and arrogance.
    Read your Bible don’t take the pastors word for it…. We are in fact cursed…

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