'Out-of-Wedlock' Births Aren't Out of the Ordinary

Cristen Conger

Forty-one percent of babies born in 2008 were delivered by unwed moms. (Laurence Monneret/Getty Images)

This morning, my Twitter feed was -- and will probably continue to be -- jam-packed with news about Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret child he had with a long-employed domestic employee. The Governator and the staffer kept the parentage under wraps throughout the duration of his stint in office and the woman's previous marriage, so the "love child" heralded in so many headlines is really a "love adolescent" by now.

All the flurry over Schwarzenegger's 'out-of-wedlock' birth got me thinking about the language we use to discuss babies born to unmarried or married-but-not-to-each-other parents. To me, terms like "out-of-wedlock children" and "unwed mothers" have a culturally negative ring to them, echoing more flagrantly offensive descriptors, "bastard" and "illegitimate." Moreover, they seem outdated since out-of-wedlock births aren't out of the ordinary anymore.

Back in 2000, Guttmacher reported that 41 percent of first children born to American women between 15 and 29 years old occurred outside of marriage. In 2007, 40 percent of all babies born in the United States "were delivered to unwed mothers," CNN reported. That data came from the National Center for Health Statistics, which also pointed out a 25 percent increase in pre-marriage births since 2002.

And teen pregnancy isn't skewing these numbers, either. According to the CDC, "teenagers accounted for just 23% of nonmarital births in 2007, down steeply from 50% in 1970. Instead women ages 20 to 29 account for the bulk. So with more people electing to raise children outside of matrimony, I wonder whether terms like "out-of-wedlock" and "unwed mothers" will eventually become outmoded, along with their negative cultural baggage.

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