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[personal profile] max_boma
Isabel Sawhill wrote a piece for the Washington Post arguing that Dan Quayle was right twenty years ago, that it is far better for a child to be brought up by married parents than by cohabitating parents, let alone a single mother. She quotes studies of how well children do in school, pregnancy rates among children of married parents compared to the other categories, graduation rates, and even earning rates as adults.

All of this addresses the wrong question. We're not SimCity players, deciding if we want to get a character pregnant, and which character (or pair of characters) would raise the healthiest, wealthiest child. The questions might be, what do we advise a pregnant woman, and how do we discourage women from getting pregnant if they're not in a strong, healthy marriage, if that is so important to society? 

I doubt Dan Quayle or Isabel Sawhill would encourage the fictional Murphy Brown or the non-fictional Bristol Pailn to get an abortion, but if you desire all children to be raised by loving, married parents, Levi Johnston seems unlikely to ever be a loving, caring husband for Bristol Palin, and before Murphy Brown chose to raise the child herself, she carefully considered as husbands the men in her life. Many people today would abort such pregnancies without batting an eyelash, knowing all too well the economic facts that Sawhill's column reminds us of. Somehow, though, I can't imagine such a staunch conservative as Dan Quayle advocating that.

How, then, do you convince women (and, to a lesser extent, men) to avoid getting into a situation in which a child is conceived out of wedlock? (I agree that it takes one of each to conceive and that the man should suffer the consequences as much as the woman. That's not realistic, though.) Do you think you can convince many more women to abstain from sex until they're in a strong healthy marriage? Studies in abstinence-only states suggest that such efforts aren't working. Even if women and men did buy into that convention, how many couples would marry at first lust so they could become sexually active and presumably become parents without giving sufficient regard to the question of their suitability for each other? 

Can we convince unmarried women, especially young unmarried women, that motherhood isn't the beatified role society makes it seem to be? Can we convince them that the economic burdens that come with teen motherhood are so horrible that, at the very least, they should learn about and use birth control until they're better equipped to support themselves and their children? That assumes, of course, that these young women have a reason to believe their economic prospects will improve as they go through high school to graduation and then trade school or some other form of post-secondary education. This might be true in suburbia, but is it true in rural America or in the economically ravaged inner cities of our country? 

The third deterrent to single-mother pregnancies might be education about birth control, and the increased availability of affordable birth control for all of America. Advocating birth control, though, seems almost as unlikely as advocating abortions for unmarried women. Some people would do it without batting an eyelash, and some would rather Bristol Palin have a daughter out of wedlock than educate her or Levi about how to reduce the chance of pregnancy while remaining sexually active.

Dan Quayle might have been right about how to raise the best children in SimCity or SimUSA, but this isn't a simulation, and that wasn't the question facing Bristol Palin. It would have better if she had parented her child with her ideal match, but she didn't. Maybe she'll eventually find true love, and her child will know a father who loves him and his mother, but in the mean time, those who are hellbent that children should be raised only by loving married parents need to figure out how to reduce the number of pregnancies among people of all ages who don't regard a lifetime commitment to a person to be a prerequisite for sexual activity.


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February 2013


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