The single most annoying thing I ever hear from people at parties or social functions, once the conversation turns to the obligatory discussion of “This is why our people don’t have anything,” is the oft repeated and patently untrue statistic that 72 percent of Black children are born to single mothers.
Truth is, 72 percent of Black babies are born to unwed mothers. The key is that unwed does not mean single. Unwed just means unwed.
I was reminded of this annoyingly misunderstood statistic recently when the always classy Kanye West asked a crowd in Atlantic City to “make some noise for [his] baby mama,” officially announcing to the world that his girlfriend of eight months, the always classy Kim Kardashian, was pregnant with his child.
I was reminded of it again when I read a press release for rapper Shawty Lo’s much maligned new Oxygen reality show, “All My Babies’ Mamas.”
“‘All My Babies’ Mamas’ is a one-hour special chronicling every second of the drama-filled lives surrounding a unique ‘modern’ family unit, as they navigate their financially and emotionally connected lives,” the release read.
We could easily write this all off as a couple of entertainers who are bucking traditional norms, but Kanye West and Shawty Lo aren’t really that odd anymore, at least, not in this sense. In fact, the trend of delaying marriage or skipping it all together is fast becoming not just normal, but typical.
As of the Census Bureau’s last study in 2008, 52.5 percent of all babies in the US are born to unmarried mothers. That’s up almost 10 percent (43.8) from 1990.
Add to that the fact that 40.8 percent of new mothers are now unmarried, compared to just 26.6 percent in 1990.
Not only are people not waiting to get married to start having children, less people than ever before are walking down the aisle, period.
The Pew Research Center reported that the number of married adults over the age of 18 in the US has dropped to 51 percent – the lowest rate in US history – down 21 percent from 1960 when 72 percent of all adults were married. Marriages are down 10 percent in just the last decade. If current trends continue, Pew suggests, that “the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years.”
And that’s as it should be. Marriage lost its usefulness years ago, and by years I mean at least 50. The institution today is nothing short of arcane, asinine and wholly unnecessary.
Marriage became pointless once it stopped meaning forever and started meaning until something goes wrong. Divorce used to be a life-changing, earth-shaking event. Now it’s just an expensive breakup with a title.
But the problem isn’t divorce – a $28 billion-a-year industry with an average cost of about $20,000 and the end result of one out of every two marriages – it’s with the institution of marriage itself.
Marriage made sense when it was a ceremony to conjoin two equally affluent and imperial families to bring both greater wealth. And sure, marriage was a good idea when it was used to transfer the property that was a woman from her father to her husband (the reason women take their husband’s last name to this day) in order for her to bare children who would tend to the fields and take care of the couple when their backs gave out and they couldn’t work anymore.
Today, what rational reason is there to get married? One could make an argument for spousal privilege, duty-free property transfer, income tax and property tax deductions, but all of those things and others can be arranged through an attorney. In truth, (heterosexual) couples that cohabitate long enough enjoy all the same rights as those that are married and if things go south they can keep the lawyers out of it.
Shawty Lo, the 10 women he’s impregnated and the 11 children he has fathered are certainly not role models. But what they, Kanye West and more couples, in everyday life and in Hollywood, are beginning to illustrate is that the matrimonial ideal is no longer ideal.