The New York Times’ [February 2012]... story that more than half of births to American women under age 30 now occur outside of marriage, and the conversation spurred by Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 – 2010, have shifted public gaze to a population largely ignored in the scholarly literature of the past few decades: the 58 percent of Americans with a high school diploma but no college degree—what some might call “working class.”
Nonmarital births have been common among Americans without a high school diploma for at least thirty years: as the 2010 State of Our Unions reports, in 1982 33 percent of births to women without a high school diploma occurred outside of marriage, compared to 13 percent of births to high-school educated women. But in the past thirty years, nonmarital births to high-school educated women surged: in the late 2000s’, 44 percent of births to high-school educated women occurred outside of marriage. (By comparison, only 6 percent of births to college-educated women were outside of marriage.) It is the behavioral changes of this “moderately educated middle”—the 58 percent of high-school educated Americans—that put the “normal” into “the new normal” that the Times describes.
Furthermore, the “new normal” is not driven primarily by an increase in single mothers, but in the number of cohabiting couples....
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