Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Birth Control = More Nonmarital Births, Less Control for Women?

In today's Best of the Web, James Taranto addressed a fascinating topic utilizing a statistical point of view, culling a lot of information from an (eye-opening) article by Charles Murray here.

It's really interesting to think how the addition of various factors plays such incredible roles in outcomes. When almost all women would demand the same from a man (promise of marriage in case of pregnancy) before consenting to sexual activity, they had the upper hand on an individual level. But once birth control came into play and that demand was no longer necessary, they actually lost their upper hand - now men could know that they could sleep with anyone without having to worry about a baby or marriage, lowering the standards of commitment in a relationship and compelling women to have sex to keep relationships. And once the standards were lowered and birth control became a woman's choice, then any resulting children were her choice as well - essentially absolving men of responsibility. 

For the specifics, read below...

From Taranto: 
The Food and Drug Administration approved the pill for contraceptive use in 1960. Over the next half-century, the marriage rate declined and the illegitimacy rate skyrocketed, Charles Murray notes in a recent Wall Street Journal essay adapted from his new book: (emphasis added)
In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont [Murray's metaphor for the upper middle class] and Fishtown [the working class] were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10. . . .
In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education--were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.
Taranto links this up with a 1996 study:

Before 1970, the stigma of unwed motherhood was so great that few women were willing to bear children outside of marriage. The only circumstance that would cause women to engage in sexual activity was a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. Men were willing to make (and keep) that promise for they knew that in leaving one woman they would be unlikely to find another who would not make the same demand. Even women who would be willing to bear children out-of-wedlock could demand a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy.
The increased availability of contraception and abortion made shotgun weddings a thing of the past. Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. But women who wanted children, who did not want an abortion for moral or religious reasons, or who were unreliable in their use of contraception found themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations without being able to exact a promise of marriage in case of pregnancy. These women feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners. Sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.
Advances in reproductive technology eroded the custom of shotgun marriage in another way. Before the sexual revolution, women had less freedom, but men were expected to assume responsibility for their welfare. Today women are more free to choose, but men have afforded themselves the comparable option. "If she is not willing to have an abortion or use contraception," the man can reason, "why should I sacrifice myself to get married?" By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.


  1. Ultimately, men were given their "gan eden." Sex with no responsibility. Men no longer need to be men. They can simply succumb to their male nature. Thank you ladies. This is another example of what Thomas Sowell calls "first stage thinking" by the Left.

  2. Firstly, if what this concludes is true, that "Before the sexual revolution, women had less freedom, but men were expected to assume responsibility for their welfare." And, ""If she is not willing to have an abortion or use contraception," the man can reason, "why should I sacrifice myself to get married?" By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father." Isn't it still men's (and women's) responsibility to be moral individuals? The above argument is one of the foundations of the legislation to restrict or eliminate access to contraception, and it is misguided.

    Why should we restrict women's access to contraception in order to keep men in line? Or women in line for that matter? What right do we have to do this? It is on the individual to be a moral, responsible person. I'd love to see cigarettes eliminated, especially considering how many people put their children's lives in danger by smoking around them, but I don't think it should be legislated.

    Here is my issue, which I realize is not discussed above :-) : legislating the elimination or restricted access based on these arguments and religious views. The people who are proposing restrictive legislation are mostly doing so based on their religious views and their views of how society "should be" which is most certainly based on their religious beliefs - most have been very outspoken about this.

    It will be throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are thousands and thousands of women who use this medication as exactly that: medication. And in many, many cases, there are no replacement medications they could take that would replicate the health benefits they get from this medication. So when the ONLY lens that this is viewed through is that of contraception, and that lens is tinted with religion, this is a huge problem IMHO.

    I'm not going to dispute the above conclusions, I haven't done enough research in that area. And I certainly agree that the state of many relationships is deplorable. However, I think there are probably other mitigating social factors that add to erosion of responsible relationships.

    But using that argument as the SOLE reason for eliminating or restricting access to a medication and contraception that has indisputably benefited the overall health of women is irresponsible at best.

    In many Jewish communities, contraception is permitted with consultation of one's rabbi. If this medication was not available, and I don't know that other forms of contraception would be permitted, there are many, many women who would suffer greatly under the pressure and reality of having children they are not mentally or financially prepared to take care of. This can only damage the fabric of responsible, moral homes and families.

    OK this was more than you asked for, but clearly this topic has me going :-)

  3. It's sick what religious people will try to rationalize.

  4. Interesting food for though. However, their conclusion is warped. Stating that "control" for women is the ability to manipulate the father into forced marriage and commitment is no real control at all. Perhaps we should also not allow women to attend college or have jobs, thus continuing to maintain their "control" over men.

  5. HH - Right.

    JA - Huh? Alt: It's sick what liberals try to rationalize.

    Chani - I don't think that was the point at all (worth reading their articles directly). Taranto was simply noting that whether he agrees with him or not on birth control, the claim that Santorum is crazy to say that contraception has hurt the country from a social perspective is false - if anything, statistics show that he's quite correct.

  6. Leah - Interesting comments, will try to reply a little later, plenty to say. Thank you for the detailed commentary!

  7. There is a false dichotomy here. Why is it either, be on birth control and lose power to keep men in line or not be on birth control and have the power to keep a man. What about anything in between like, having high standards in who you decide to sleep with while also using birth control? Or deciding to abstain until marriage? Maybe that would limit the dating pool but you would also be more likely to end up with someone who is not just in the relationship for sex. The point is that women have more choice now, and with choice comes responsibility.

  8. Anon - It's simply an analysis of what's actually happened. Ideally perhaps you're right - practically, that's not how things have gone, especially in poorer communities.

  9. Leah - Firstly, let me just note that I agree re: access to contraception and how lack of it can hurt other families, and that legislating people's choices in regards to contraception would be wrong (just as it would be with guns, cigarettes, etc.).

  10. From JA's perspective, the religious are always wrong and backward. Nothing that the liberal secular society has done has ever lead to bad consequences down the road.

  11. to continue my point..and thanks for the thoughful reply first of all...there is an unstated premise that the old way is "Good" and the new way is "Bad", but those stats don't demonstrate this. They only demonstrate that the way is creating social change, but not that this change is bad or good.

  12. Anon - Well in Murray's piece I think it is, I believe he actually shows how some of this is quite bad. The statistics on opportunities for children of single parents and other statistics are far, far worse than to couples.

  13. I agree with anonymous. The stats are true. That the nuclear family has broken down. Divorce has gone up. Single mothers have increased. But saying that this new norm is better than the old is not necessarily true.

    Also, concluding that the pill made men less responsible based on the statistics provided is incorrect. One does not necessarily connect to the other. Men may have been just as irresponsible but stuck around in marriages in order to have sex or because it was socially expected.

    Marriage does not equate to a feeling of personal responsibility. Thats were the premise goes awry.

  14. >But saying that this new norm is better than the old is not necessarily true.

    I think you meant the opposite :)

  15. HH, ha lol your right.

    Basically what I'm saying is this whole article is based on the idea that the nuclear family is the best for all. Is keeps the woman secure and guarantees commitment. And, it makes men own up, committed and responsible.

    Birth control is not good because it does away with this nuclear family ideal.

    But, we have to question the premise altogether. (besides all the questionable smaller conclusions drawn from these statistics) Is the nuclear family really the ideal?

  16. Statistically, yes.

    Morally - I think that people will debate this, but I would think so.

  17. Re the reference to poorer communities - the poor will always be promiscuous. Having sex comes with its price, but it is also one of the little joys in life. People without a lot aren't going to just forgo the leisure activity that doesn't cost money now, even if ultimately it does cost money for them. Birth control prevents diseases, pregnancy and, yes, abortion. Eliminating access to it may make some small number of people think twice before having sex. While I'm sure God will be absolutely thrilled if some rural bored or poor people think twice before having sex, who is going to take responsibility for the cost in diseases and pregnancy among those who will still have sex anyway? One of life's pleasures. People without a lot are not going to stop doing it (certainly while people who have access to birth control will still have access and still have sex too).

  18. Statistics on that say you're wrong, though - marriage dropping from 84% to 48% among the poor and nonmarital births rising from 6% to 44% since 1960 (when contraception pill was approved).

  19. Ezzie,

    "Is the nuclear family really the ideal?"..."Statistically, yes."? All the stats here show is that the nuclear family is going away. These stats dont show whether that is a good or bad thing.

    (PS - with all my arguing, I do like this post. Interesting things to think about...)


    Money quote: "The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems." (Links didn't copy, but that paragraph links to the studies.)

  21. Interesting discussion! Thanks for the thoughtful responses!

  22. did these stats differentiate socioeconomic status?

    ...parental raising styles? about extended family involvement?

    ...genetic psychological problems (passing from parent to child)?

    what about stats on kids living in shotgun wedding families?

    What about stats on children from non-nuclear cultures?

    Basically, we can pull stats from our tucheses all day.

    But, what I wanted to point out was that the stats in THIS article on the blog do not support their conclusions. When people draw faulty conclusions from stats - it makes me really annoyed.

  23. Read the studies. :)

    All seriousness, we're talking major gaps. I'm sure within each of those there's a spread, but at the end of the day a nuclear family has an advantage over a single parent. That doesn't mean single parents can't (or don't) often succeed, but the point is that they fail more often than a married couple.

  24. So what, we are now arguing whether it's better for a child to be raised in a nuclear family or a single parent?

    I think sometimes we try to be overly intellectual and blind to some obvious common sense.

  25. This seems like the mother of all post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies. I don't even know what the relevant data would show, but this data hardly seems enough to generate a conclusion, and Taranto himself states the argument is fallacious - just that nothing disproves it, per se.

    Besides the obvious fallacy - lots of changes happened in American society after 1960, as Charles Murray notes - men work less, for example? and yet no one is blaming birth control for that - why is no one concerned with whether the people having all these pregnancies are actually on the pill?

    If the pill is expensive, then one would assume the residents of Fishtown would have less access to it. Ditto if they lived in a state that outlawed contraception. Or if they were more religious. Again, I don't know what the relevant data would show, but I think those are the questions we should be asking.

    Here's a chart that shows that the teen birth rate actually has dropped significantly since 1950, but that could be a result of all sorts of factors.

    >This is another example of what Thomas Sowell calls "first stage thinking" by the Left.

    How is birth control the left's fault? Blame science for making the pill. It's not like it was a leftist plot.

    Unless we're blaming the left's argument for making it legal? In which case Thomas Sowell would rather we keep something illegal for women to regulate men? Are hotpants also an example of first stage thinking on the part of the left?

  26. yes i m also agree this is really nuclear family and divorce is goes on These stats dont show whether that is a good or bad thing.