This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Latin America Leads the World in Out of Wedlock Births

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing me to an NPR story this morning highlighting a new compilation of data from Child Trends in Washington, DC. The report maps family forms around the world, at least for countries for which such data are available.
Latin America is now the region that has the highest percentage of children born out of wedlock. In Colombia, 84 percent of all children are born to unmarried mothers. Argentina, Mexico, Chile and other countries throughout the region have similar numbers, with well over half of all children born outside wedlock.
In less than a generation in Argentina, the traditional definition of a family has given way to new interpretations. And it's happening at all economic levels — educated, middle-class women are now among the many choosing to have kids alone or in an informal union.
Keep in mind that consensual unions (informal marriages--the precursors to "cohabitation") have been common in Latin America for centuries, especially among indigenous populations. But the situation here is a step back from formal marriages, partly because of the rigid marriage and divorce laws enacted throughout Latin America based on Catholic principles. Couples, but especially women, want more flexibility than the law allows and it is hard to argue with that. On the other hand, it is still worrisome to think about increasing fractions of children being raised in what may be a one-parent household.  Last year I commented on a very good book by Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution called Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage. Her focus is on the U.S., but her concerns about unmarried motherhood are universal across human society.

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