One key finding: Americans have a problem with unmarried childbearing. The Pew poll asked this question in a variety of ways: Seventy-one percent of Americans say the growth in births to unwed mothers is a "big problem" for society, while 69 percent agree "A child needs a home with both a mother and father to grow up happily." By a margin of 66 percent to 25 percent, Americans say that "single women having children" is a trend that is "bad for society," rather than "good."
The breadth of this consensus across lines of age, race and education is striking: Seventy percent of whites and 67 percents of black agree it's a bad trend for society (as do 54 percent of Hispanics). Seventy-two percent of senior citizens say it's a bad thing, but so do 65 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds. Sixty-eight percent of college grads worry about unmarried childbearing, but so do 65 percent of Americans with only a high school degree or less.
Sixty-seven percent of those in households making at least $100,000 a year see single parenting as a negative trend, but so do 62 percent of those in households making less than $30,000. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans say it is a bad trend, but so do 61 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Independents. Eighty-seven percent of white Evangelicals say it's a bad trend for society, but so do about two-thirds of white mainline Protestants, white Catholics and black Protestants.
In fact the only group in which less than a majority agree that single women having children is bad for society are the "seculars." Forty-five percent of seculars say single women having children is bad for society, while 41 percent say it is a good thing -- which kind of makes one wonder about the reality-base of this particular community.
But Pew also asked the same question in a slightly different way: What do you think of the trend of unmarried (START ITAL) couples having children? Overall, the level of concern dropped slightly, with 59 percent of the general public saying it's a bad thing (still a 2-1 margin opposed). But a significant generation gap emerges: Among 18 to 29-year-olds just 46 percent say unmarried couples having children is a bad thing and 45 percent say it is a good thing for society. The biggest drop off is among Hispanic Catholics: Fifty-two percent disapprove of "single women having children," but only 37 percent say unmarried couples having children is a bad thing for society.
The next generation is persuaded that children need a mom and a dad. They are less convinced that marriage is the key to giving children that gift. Closing that loop in the mind of young adults is the key to marriage's -- and children's -- future.