In the middle of the last century most women postponed pregnancy until they were married. This was true whether they were rich or poor, college educated or not or belonged to different ethnic groups. During those years the coupling of reproduction and marriage was the rule. Single women avoided pregnancy despite the fact that the choice of contraceptives was very limited. I have discussed this social tendency with a number of women who were young at that time. Did they have sex? Of course they did! Many recalled the anxiety they would experience that they might inadvertently become pregnant. Social stigma was significant. When an unmarried woman became pregnant they often would send her away to live with a relative. After delivery the child was put up for adoption. I certainly am not advocating that we return to the puritan times of the scarlet letter. I am merely reporting on an earlier era that regarded marriage as a social responsibility and the optimal environment to raise children.
At present the majority of births amongst women less than thirty occur outside of wedlock. Stigma has been removed. Words such as, “bastard” or “Illegitimate” have all but disappeared from the language. Film magazines frequently carry feature articles of unwed movie stars proudly showing their new progeny. Often young women see such starlets as role models to be emulated. If they can have a baby why can’t I have a baby too? Girls from dysfunctional families, limited intellectual ability and minimal education are especially prone to become unmarried mothers. If these present trends continue single motherhood might become the new norm. This might be the biggest social upheaval of our times. It also may not bode well for society. I will make further comments on this subject in my next blog.