Why Birth Control Matters for the American Dream

Unwed mothers are now more likely to slip down the economic ladder than ever before

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Melinda Gates was lauded for her bravery last week in stating her unequivocal support for contraception, especially for women in developing countries. She’s right, of course, that family planning saves lives, but it’s odd that a public embrace of contraception still makes headlines when more than 98% of American women have used contraception at some point in their lives. The problem, unfortunately, is that many Americans aren’t using contraception at the right point in their lives, and this oversight is especially common in the people who need it most: women who want a piece of the American Dream.

This is dangerous ground. No one wants to suggest that certain women shouldn’t have babies. But the hard truth is that certain women shouldn’t have babies if they aspire to a middle-class life.

To suggest that some women should delay (or forswear) having children harks back to the old “population bomb” anxiety of the 1960s, when the Town & Country set seemed to embrace procontraception policies in part to keep “riffraff” from solidifying their tenuous perch on the socioeconomic ladder. The history of contraception advocacy in the early 20th century carried a nasty stink of eugenics that continues to make a lot of people understandably uneasy. But that unease shouldn’t keep us from facing reality. Births to financially insecure single women who aspire to middle-class life are a hindrance to upward mobility.

(MORE: Tim Padgett: Sorry, Rome, U.S. Catholics Are More like Melinda Gates)

Gary King, the eminent political scientist at Harvard, likes to talk about “evil hypotheses,” the vexing hot-button social problems that people find too politically or morally controversial to address systemically. This is a terrible shame because the more we put our heads in the sand about the comprehensive economic impact of unwed motherhood on working-class and middle-class families — including a thorough reckoning of its downstream financial costs to children’s and mothers’ physical, academic, psychological and social health — the more the void is filled by people who don’t have much intention of doing anything about it.

This is not to say that single motherhood takes a uniformly negative toll; its impact varies quite a bit. Some economists have suggested that for the very poorest and least educated young women, having a baby doesn’t significantly alter the already low prospects. In those cases, a baby born to a poor (usually unwed) teenage mother is often the symptom, not the cause, of a larger problem of dashed opportunity. That’s a depressing story in its own right, with its own dire policy implications.

(MORE: Christakis: The Good News in Teen Births Isn’t Good Enough)

But equally concerning are the women on the bottom rung of the middle class for whom single motherhood does, indeed, derail them. These are the women with a year or two of college headed to decent jobs: without the burden of motherhood, they would have moved up the socioeconomic ladder but now find themselves languishing, along with their children, in near poverty. According to a recent report in the New York Times, the proportion of these unwed mothers who have some college education but didn’t finish a college degree rose from 10% in 1990 to 30% today. This is a stunning finding.

In previous generations, the marriage and childbearing patterns of the middle class bore a closer resemblance to their wealthier, better-established cohorts than to the working class. But this pattern has flipped: middle-class problems today now seem more like the problems of people at the precarious bottom economic rung: fatherless children, economic insecurity, tough parenting trade-offs, high stress and limited options.

Unfortunately, people on all sides of the political spectrum fall into the morality trap when they talk about unwed motherhood, tying themselves in knots trying to parse the “real” impact of growing up in an atypical family. On the right, these conversations often rooted in religious convictions about marriage, sex and even abortion. On the left, policymakers are so quick to embrace all family structures that they refuse to acknowledge that some models really do work better than others in the long run. On both sides, there’s an emotional quality to the discourse that detracts from the financial realities.

(MORE: Christakis: What Got Lost in the Debate About Birth Control)

We need to stop fighting about the ethics of out-of-wedlock births and instead focus on the economics behind them. When we do, we’ll discover that the real story isn’t that women aren’t getting married. It’s that they, and the men who impregnate them, are having children they can’t support. It may be good news that a majority of Americans (54%) think having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable, because for women under 30 today, the majority of births do take place outside of marriage. Whether it’s economically feasible is a whole different story.

A robust middle class is an essential feature of a thriving society, whether as part of the postwar boom in the U.S. or in 21st century China. We should worry about these single mothers; they are the canaries in the coal mine of a society that is economically unhinged.

MORE: Access to Birth Control Helps Save Lives — and the Planet

39 comments
campeon707
campeon707

Thank you for discussing this for what it is. No matter what everyone will have their opinions. Moral ground, right or wrong etc. you can say we need good to follow, we need to be more responsible, tv and media make us do it. However the fact of the matter is it is a big problem for society as a whole. Changing society's mentality will take decades trough education, faith based or what not. However we need a immediate answer (instead of usual politic divid) to prevent these "unplanned" pregnancies that's the fact. The same people that fight things such as access to plan B are the same people that complain about the people using the government safety net in its various form. They complain they are sucking up services been then provide no solutions to prevent the services from being needed such as plan B or other means yes including the white elephant in the room of abortion (wait everyone run for they pitch forks). However the fact of the matter is unplanned pregnancies will continue to happen until we change society as a whole which will take time. In the mean time their needs to be a immediate solution for babies having babies. Because people can complain about teenage pregnancies, no on abortion, no on plan B for the young but where will you be when a young teenager from the inner city or poor dunk town has a child in poverty that will likely never get out of poverty feeding the cycle. The answer is nowhere. You will be sitting in your middle or upper class Neighboor hood blaming themselves. Well that's fine then don't complain when they use the social safety net when you never offer real solutions. Before the pitch forks come this is coming from a Christian raised, middle class small business owner who has worked his way up but knows an unplanned pregnancy even in marriage for the working middle class makes a huge impact on success of the whole family. Give our babies a chance and babies I mean our young ones having babies. Lay off the finger pointing and give real solutions. Unfortunately the offered solutions after a pregnancy are to late as statics never lie.

truegoodandbeautiful
truegoodandbeautiful

I may just be a student but I do  know that the sexual act is for a married couple. After all, marriage is where a man and a woman want to make their love for each other fruitful. This basic idea would lead one to understand that sex is there for procreation and not for the mere pleasure of it. If it is used in the latter way, one is objectifying the other person. To understand it more clearly, one is using the act and the other person to feel good. This is selfish. I mean, what would you feel if you were being used by another person out of pleasure? Isn't that dehumanizing?   Instead of liberation and freedom, what happens is dehumanization.  Instead of liberation and freedom, what happens is dehumanization. May I suggest that instead of overemphasizing the use of contraception for women to reach a near-affluent lifestyle we use our responsible freedom (one of the greatest things about man that sets him apart from beasts) to use the act for what it really is meant for.

MikeTime
MikeTime

"We need to stop fighting about the ethics of out-of-wedlock births and instead focus on the economics behind them."

Problem is that almost all laws are fundamentally about ethics.  When any law is enacted, it essentially voices a moral stance towards a particular position saying some behavior is either "right" or "wrong".

I'm also wondering why there's nothing in this piece which discusses the gorilla in the room as to WHY women are having sex with men out of wedlock in the first place.

Unless a woman is raped, sex is a consentual act which takes two active participants (i.e. the man and the woman).  Even with contraception, there is always some minimal risk with getting pregnant.  If you have sex, you are risk pregnancy, period.

I don't recall any "inalienable right" to having sex.  A better question to ask  is WHY are these women having consentual sex in the first place?  If they know how much damage it does it to them in terms of deadbeat dads or abusive boyfriends, why did they sleep with them in the first place, or not insist they "put a ring on it" before giving up their bodies?

I sometimes wonder if this is just another example of people wanting to not pay for the consequences of their actions.

lawoman32
lawoman32

Absolutely spot on!  Unwanted pregnancies are a huge factor in dooming women to a life of poverty.  Universal access to contraception (and yes, free for the poor) is an imperative.  I think back to my own life (I'm a 64 year old boomer) and planning my children was the best choice I ever made.  We also have to be concerned, of course, with an out-of-control global population that cannot sustain it.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Egg-layers don't have the same problem as the mammalian species and breast-feeding has made some major leaps and bounds in recent years.  We don't mind to see women's private parts plastered all over the front pages but breast feeding mothers are treated as though they were arsonists!

Lava Kafle
Lava Kafle

great article for pregnancy control 

Jim Burton
Jim Burton

Widely known fact: The Catholic Church believes that only married people should be having sex.

Little known fact: The Catholic Church has no problem with married couples planning their families. Married couples are called to "fruitful responsibility" as John Paul II once said.

Widely known fact: The Catholic Church does not allow couples to use artificial contraception.

Little known fact: The Catholic Church does allow couples to prevent pregnancy through fertility awareness based methods. They not only allow it, they approve of it and promote it.

Little known fact: Modern methods of fertility awareness are HIGHLY effective. Planned Parenthood rates the Symptothermal method (taught in the bestselling book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" 400+ 5-star ratings on Amazon) at 99.6% effective at preventing pregnancy if followed correctly and 98.1% when user error is included.

Little known fact: The method had a very high rate of satisfaction among couples because it has NO unpleasant side effects and NO ongoing cost.

Little known fact: A simplified version of fertility awareness, the Billings Ovulation Method, developed by two married Australian doctors, is already widely used in the third world. Planned Parenthood rates the Billings Method (Cervical mucus method) at 97% effective at preventing pregnancy, although the Billings claim more recent studies put it over 99%. Teaching the Billings Method would largely solve Melinda Gates's problem.

Little known fact: You can learn the Billings Method for free online. www (dot) thebillingsovulationmethod (dot) com.  Women, in less than half an hour, you can learn what you were NEVER taught in eighth grade health class.

Little known fact: ALL methods of contraception were developed by men. Fertility awareness was designed by nature and developed by a woman based on the discoveries of her husband.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Your grandiose perspective shows a complete lack of insight as to limitations of the poverty-entrenched lifestyle.

Furthermore, those who have failed to use this method are, by your estimation, proponents of little more than some "8th-grade health class"— the arrogance is astounding in view of the fact that Melinda Gates and her companions (we assume given the tone that you are either the monster herself or one of her advocates) is of the belief that any and all intellectually-enhancing systems must be stomped out in the "developed world". Furthermore, she never fails to spit on the idea of abstention as an effective means to space children when it is even more effective than the rhythm method and I know this for a fact because my kids are 5 years apart and it's the method I used. I'm not saying it's ideal but it is _very_ Catholic, is supported by the Church and yet for some reason she abhors it.

It is only natural that someone who originates from plumbing dynasties has greater sophistication when it comes to the means by which women fail to procreate but I do not see her ever focus on the strengths and knowledge that others possess and in which she is sorely lacking because of her unfailing, prurient narcissism. Strange coming from someone who lives a fraudulent lie on the subject of her own reproductive history. For example, she thinks women who know little about toilets are luddites and women who know all about child-psychology belong in the electric chair!

How, pray tell, are people from the West much less those in the "developing world" to absorb such teachings without the capacity or means to do so because she is incapable of sustaining any form of real education due to her complete inability to compete in a level playing field?!!! Remember her position on water and sanitation?!!! I do! Maybe some of us suffer from selective Alzheimer's…

Jim Burton
Jim Burton

What in the world are you talking about?

It seems like you have a bone to pick with Melinda Gates for some reason. You may need professional help for this. Seriously.

Abstention is ALLOWED by the Catholic Church, but fertility awareness based methods (periodic abstinence) are recommended and encouraged. Mother Theresa's nuns were REQUIRED to learn the Billings Method so they could teach it to the poor women of India and the Billings were honored by the Pope for their work.

The Catholic Church believes that sex in marriage is GOOD--so good that you shouldn't mess it up with contraception. (Who likes condoms when you are married? Really? And have you ever read the Pill package insert? Who wants to deal with that?) They provide an effective method of family planning for couples who are called to be both generous and fruitful as well as responsible parents and spouses. Read the Catechism. Read John Paul II. Read St. John Chrysostom.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Who the hell are you, the Pope?!!! I have no respect for your work or your position on child-rearing. All the people you know with narrow pipes and sparkly eye makeup in their closets may chide in to support your position, Burton, but that doesn't make it right, doesn't make it Catholic.  Plenty of women do their own thing in this world— I don't have to work with any director I don't like so quit making threats and pretending to be right when you have two left feet.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Some people take things for granted, such as their health, security and wealth.  It is pitiful unwise to be so arrogant when we've had everything handed to us.

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

Why is it such a taboo to say unwanted babies/people are bad for society in the grandest sense. (Yeah yeah there are outliers, and exceptions) I also find it funny that anti abortion folks protest BC; yet you wouldn't have an abortion debate had the person used it in the first place.  

Why is it so wrong to say some people should not have children? 

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Birth control is not fail-proof, Melinda.  While your investments are no doubt calculated to be just that as a direct result of this media barrage on the subject, there are other things that matter to society besides your sexual gratification and exorbitant earnings on my back.  I realize it's a challenge for someone with your intellectual deficiencies to grasp, but there it is.  Faith is more than window-dressing for millions of intelligent, competent women.

Bengie25
Bengie25

"

Faith is more than window-dressing for millions of intelligent, competent women."

Yeah, it's a balcony with which to look down upon anyone who does not agree with you and judging others for not follow your ideologies.

Women that come from families with lower education tend to be much more likely to have children. It's a cycle of not enough education. The cycle needs to be broken. Birth control is a simple effective way of mostly fixing that.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

It's true— some very wealthy women born into plumbing dynasties who are completely barren boast of having three children rather than the standard 1.5 alloted to the wealthy because they cannot handle the fact that they failed at fertility so they make it everyone else's cross to bear.  I wonder why that is?  Oh— and that bit about the dirt poor being little more than genitalia with legs and opposable thumbs is dead on.  May as well exterminate all the poor people because they're nothing but vermin… we can speed up the process by slandering highly productive thinkers, ripping them off and never paying them so they die bleeding in the gutters. Voila! Instant poor people. Just add water…

To whomever accused me of thinking all those who comment under Melinda Gates articles are the monster herself, I cannot see how it's far-fetched to think she would find the time to speak on her behalf when she's skewered on a public message board when, in my experience, the majority of her time is spent committing identity theft and spreading vicious falsehoods about her Internet stalking victims.  (She abuses her position as wife of Microsoft founder to pay others to hack into competitor's home computers and steals IP from them on a regular basis.)

DurkDing
DurkDing

Sometimes you really have to wonder who comes up with all that stuff.

Total-Privacy dot US

lmgold
lmgold

Terrific article, and dead-on in terms of it's point. Birth control saves the lives of women through lower maternal mortality, and because it allows the planning of families, helps create more stable families and wanted children.

goodgenie4u
goodgenie4u

We have allowed our carnal desires greater priority over family life. Family life for millennia can be observed in nature, as male and female raising young until they are old enough to move out on their own and be repsonsible if they desire to survive., leave alone procreate.

Now having a family is a problem because couples are not prepared to sign a contract to take on the aforemention job of parenting, Despite their marriag vows, they have the right to break their contract, just like commercical contracts. No wonder there are so many children that have not been raised as well as the Wildebeast raise theirs in the Seringetti Plains. There the parents fight off, sometime to their detriment any assualt on their kids. That for intelligetnt humans is increasingly a bad, bad idea, specially if you can just walk away by paying an annuity until the kids are 18.

Jardin J
Jardin J

I suppose you missed that part about  "We need to stop fighting about the ethics of out-of-wedlock births and instead focus on the economics behind them."

You are entitled to your own opinion, of course. But browbeating young people about "carnal desires" is not going to win people to your cause. The author is suggesting that we take our emotions/religion out of it, so that we can have a more civil discourse about the subject.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

That's SLANDER.  I guess that's what people do when they don't have brains to back up their position. I was twice released from hospital last year with doctors saying I was capable of consent after Melinda's crazy gossip and bribe monies put me in under observation. I lost 50 G of my private property including expensive exercise machines my kids and I needed for physiotherapy because of her and police were afraid to investigate because she gets them fired. Once the machines were gone she spread rumors we didn't exercise enough. Choose your side wisely because she's a criminally insane cheater, I am anything but paranoid and I have witnesses that she's made threats online to murder members of my ex-husband's family— I reported it by email to police last week and they blocked my email address. This woman is not right, she's extreme left. What's happening here is not normal and there's an evidence trail to substantiate all of it.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Yes, and how is encouraging pre-marital sex from as early as kindergarten helping to prevent this dire scenario she describes in her article?  Taking the religion out of it won't necessarily legitimize the issues if all it accomplishes is to exploit young people who can live relatively chaste lives given the opportunity to do so.  The culture this woman FORCIBLY propagates through her investments in TV, publishing and popular culture UNDER THREAT OF MURDER/ MEDICAL MALPRACTICE/ KIDNAPPING through organized crime using the UN's less scrupulous ties in our government IS anti-education; IS anti-family-planning.  All the more reason she ought to be shamed out of this line of work if not locked away for life for criminal insanity.

Jardin J
Jardin J

By monster you mean your anxiety/paranoia that is obviously not being treated.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

I have been journaling my experiences with this monster for 10 years and this is but a fraction of the atrocities I've suffered at her hand while she bribes Canadian officials to ignore/perpetrate the abuses. I am stalked online, my phone is tapped, computer hacked, and lawyers who return calls are threatened as are police who refuse to step in when my family is robbed, kidnapped, poisoned, illegally detained in hospital, physically assaulted. (If you Google my name, you'll se plenty on the subject I am not able to post links in this thread.)

Jardin J
Jardin J

Who is encouraging premartial sex in children?

Who is exploiting children?

How is she forcibly propagating anything?

Where are you getting this information?

Links would be helpful.

goodgenie4u
goodgenie4u

The family construct; one that developed over milennia, does not exist in theory in the developed" world. This is a fallout of the industrial revolution and capitalist labour supply strategies that culminated in the womens liberation movement. Men universally are fundamentally stupid, naive, asleep when it comes to managing a family. Not just in Afghanistan, but America too.  With women having the option to a life previously relegated to men, many of them are setting the same priorities that men do. "This here is a picture of my palatial home, my 2 BMW's. my 1.35 kids, my 2 dogs, the live in Nanny and me and my other half" .

Nothing is wrong with the picture. It is the American dream; the 10%, like in England, where landed elites are an entitlement or in more middle class terms, the 10% should not pay more than 15% percent in taxes even if those that fight and die in support of big business favoured wars,  do so as a priveledge; keeping the elites successful even if they outsource jobs to other countries.

When will there be a real coronation? It would be a goodfor it one thing. There would be no need for the right to bear arms. Instead the pagentry would be far more civilized  with Royalty around flauting thier entitlements to tax payers contribution to their good life. What would the rest be bragging about without their elite?

Traci Ford
Traci Ford

Not everyone should be a parent. Along with the economic issues associated with children born to single parents, or born into poverty, our species needs to ask itself, individually if they should have children.

There are a great many selfish people who get pregnant because it's the next logical step in their lives without giving thought to whether or not they're selfless enough to have children.

I saw an episode of PREGNANT IN HEELS and Rosie Pope had a couple who wanted to have a child that would eventually go along with THEIR schedules (they like to travel and take spontaneous weekend trips) rather than adjusting THEIR lifestyles to accommodate their child. Talk about selfish!

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

carlloeber
carlloeber

Birth control ..  along with "no fault divorce" and "Roe v. Wade" has actually been a huge detriment to the happiness of women and children ..   it has caused women untold emotion pain by facilitating their connection with men who do not marry and stay with them ..  it has drastically reduced the formation and stability of families such that children have much less chance to be raised in an intact family by their mother and father ..

Liz14
Liz14

 Birth control has made me very, very happy as a woman. And all of my female friends are similarly very, very happy to have birth control as an option. It gives us the opportunity to engage in loving, committed (yes - committed!) relationships (not flings, not one night stands, but - gasp! - relationships!) with boyfriends and husbands, while not having to worry about abandoning our education because of children we don't want at this time.

By the way, if a man is so immature that he wants to float through life without making any commitments, that's his problem. The state of his partner's uterus is not the problem. Judging by the number of non-contraception-using single mothers who have to raise their children alone because the fathers abandoned them as soon as they got pregnant, I wouldn't say birth control is the reason we're seeing a lack of intact families.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

It's not easy to learn with small children in tow but I managed it and as a result I have learned a tremendous amount of patience and my multi-tasking skills are superb.  Not all women see children as burdens and that is our right!!! Those who do need to humble themselves and accept the fact that they are not born policy makers nor are they competent leaders of the human race. We all have our special gifts. In a fair society, they're all recognized.

Natural birth control is a gift from God and no sane Catholic would deny women access to either this or education unless she herself lacked intelligence/sensitivity and could not compete intellectually without a crude system in place as a safety net! If we are not able to see how the youth of society have not had the chance to develop the discipline to manifest effective reproductive lives and we choose to condemn them all for their youth, we fail as intellectuals to grasp the need for education and we fail as leaders. Not all women are intellectually capable of leadership! We don't all possess the emotional intelligence nor capacity to understand our boundaries!

Pills cause blood clots; they cause hormonal imbalances but we're not talking about alternatives. We promote condoms and dangerous papilloma vaccines in schools without parental consent vaccines that result in cancer. We're not able to self-govern when we ourselves are prey to this system and yet we cannot manage to evolve into something more refined because we're full of resentment towards our fellow man. Breast cancer rates are skyrocketing and we think we can keep this system alive, only making changes for our own little clique?! That's not how sustainable society works, ladies!

truthmatters2012
truthmatters2012

"These are the women with a year or two of college headed to decent jobs: without the burden of motherhood, they would have moved up the socioeconomic ladder but now find themselves languishing, along with their children, in near poverty."  What has this world come to when they regard children as a burden?  I saw a man with a shirt that read, "money over everything."  The truth is we live in a society where it's all about me;  my desires, my dreams, my goals, my aspirations.  Children actually help us in learning to be more sacrificial and giving.  In turn we grow a love that cannot be duplicated by social status or education.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Someone who lacks "social status" and "education" would not be Internet-stalked, plagiarized by nor perceived as a threat by someone of Gates' "stature".

Jardin J
Jardin J

The author was speaking economically when she said that motherhood is a burden. And it's true. It costs a lot to take care of a child, in time and dollars. 

No one is saying it's not a good investment, but if you hold off on making that investment until you have the finances and time, it s beneficial for both parent and child.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

The way we are forced to learn in this society is what makes early motherhood cost-punitive.  Young mothers are more able to care for energetic babies and manage household duties without strain.  Older mothers have a right as well but young mothers are horribly mistreated in this society.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Translation: "You're too old/ugly to serve as my private entertainment." 

Melinda— if I'm not viable intellectually and I'm not viable sexually, then explain the harassment/ stalking/ threats.  It could not be simply because I exist and have reproduced that I pose such an immense threat as to warrant this intrusion into my life 24/7.  You have employees who work from home; employees who have a degree in poetry; employees who have more offspring than I do; employees who have had abortions; who've been married several times; all of your intrusive, law-thumbing reasons for torturing my family have been refuted a hundred times over.  You have no right to make payment for exploiting my intellectual abilities pivotal on my sexuality/ private business unless you disclose your own.  I've even gone so far as to demonstrate myself to be a benefit where the nation's security is of interest whereas you are a domestic terrorist threat.  There is absolutely no legitimate reason to blacklist someone for being poor when you make money off their backs, obviously due to intellectual capacity.  You yourself come from an impoverished background.  There is no logic in this insanity.

conet
conet

Makes sense, I would assume one would speak another language if they come from a different planet.

Jardin, from what I can tell she believes everyone with a differing opinion from her own is literally Melinda Gates, addresses them as such, and levies arguments that only make sense if the recipient was actually Melinda Gates.

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

(Since there's no reply button under your post I'll write a reply on top.) Answer: I'm obviously speaking a different language than you.  I'm not obligated to answer your questions, either.

Jardin J
Jardin J

I have several questions:

1. Who are you talking to?

2. Who is Melinda?

3. What harassment?

4. What do you mean by private entertainment?

5. Did you post on the wrong article?

In short: What on EARTH are you talking about?

Christina Halasz
Christina Halasz

Reproductive status in the West has little to do with someone's employability factor— we only use it as an excuse not to pay our employees when we're insane with greed.  There have been no calls from any of your partners, from Microsoft; no job offers and yet I am milked to the point of depletion while you spread lies that I have turned down payed work in favor of Catholic morality.  This woman is a con artist.  She belongs in a mental hospital.