In 1960 5% of all new mothers were unmarried. In 2014, the numbers spiked to slightly more than 40%.
Trying to discover why, economists have compared less-educated men in manufacturing and fracking.
When men lose their high-pay manufacturing jobs because of “trade shock,” the result is less marriage, less fertility and more single parenting because the men are no longer as “attractive” or available. Accepting less in a husband, some females with traditional values who want children still marry. But more women with non-traditional values who want children become single moms. And a third group of women neither marry nor have offspring.
Seeing the negative impact of an income decline on household formation, University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney hypothesized that more income would be accompanied by more marriage and fertility.
She was half right.
The odd part is that in the same regions during the 1970s and 1980s, a coal boom did precisely what researchers expected. Marriage rates went up, fertility rose, and single parenting diminished. But with fracking, the marriage part was not happening. You just had more kids with single moms and married moms. And economists are not sure why.
Our Bottom Line: Human Capital
So where does that leave us? We began by noting that the number of single moms has increased from 5 to 40 in 100. We can end by saying that because two parent households tend to produce children with better human capital, economists are concerned.
My sources and more: Thanks to Freakonomics for alerting me to Dr. Kearney’s research on fracking and fertility. It was the perfect complement to this manufacturing and marriage paper and our recent econlife post.
Please note that this post was edited after publication to improve clarity.