Baby Mama Drama: Explaining Conservative Deception About Out-of-Wedlock Births in the Black Community

Ever since my post two days ago, in which I detailed the way the right, a) distorts evidence about social pathology in black communities with regard to crime and out-of-wedlock childbirth, and b) routinely ignores those pathologies that are prevalent in white spaces, I’ve been bombarded with requests for further clarification. Specifically, about the matter of out-of-wedlock childbearing among black women. Folks are apparently confused by the evidence and would like to better understand what I was saying and why conservative arguments about this issue are entirely fraudulent.

I agree that the data is confusing, and so I will try and explain it as clearly as possible.

First, to recap: when conservatives argue that there is an “illegitimacy” crisis in black America, and that rising out-of-wedlock birthrates are the real cause of black folks’ problems, they demonstrate an inability to actually understand statistics. The fact is, the birth rate for unmarried black women (births per 1000 such women of childbearing age) is dropping, not rising. For black teens, the birth rate has fallen by half since 1970 and is now at its lowest point ever, and for black women generally the out-of-wedlock birthrate is down by about a third in that same period of time.

However, as conservatives note, it is also true that the percentage of black births that are out-of-wedlock as a share of all black births has risen, nearly doubling since 1970, and now stands at just over 72 percent.

Both of these things are true: declining birth rates and fertility rates for unmarried black women (i.e., unmarried black women are increasingly being more and more “responsible” in conservative terms, not less), and also a climbing share of out-of-wedlock kids as a share of all black kids born.

The reason for these seemingly contradictory trends can best be explained like this:

Imagine a community of 100,000 people of childbearing age (50,000 men and 50,000 women), where half the men and women are married and half of each are single. Of the 25,000 single women, imagine that 500 had babies this year. This would represent a very small number, and an unmarried birth rate of 20 babies per 1000 women. You could also represent this by saying that only about 2% of single women in this community would have a baby out of wedlock this year, since most women would have only one child per year, and so the 500 babies born likely represent roughly 500 of the 25,000 women too.

But let’s say that that same year, for whatever reason, only 200 of the married women gave birth. In that case, 500 of the 700 babies born, or over 71 percent of all babies born in this community would be out-of-wedlock! Oh my God! Send out the cultural police! But note, this result would not in any way reflect the widespread misbehavior of single women and their male companions — after all 98 percent of all unmarried women are not giving birth — but rather, it would reflect the fact that married couples were simply having even fewer kids than single women were.

And in fact, that is what has happened in the U.S. Even though single black women have cut back on how many babies they have while unmarried, married black women have cut back even further. So if single black women have reduced their birthrates by a third, but married couples have cut theirs by over half, or even two-thirds (which is the case), then obviously the percentage of births in the black community that are out-of-wedlock will rise.

The reason it is unfair for conservatives to seize upon the latter of these facts while ignoring the context that explains it, is that their argument is first and foremost that black folks need to stop having babies out of wedlock. But the data says they are already cutting back on that, and dramatically so. In other words, the trend lines in that regard are positive. To suggest a pathological — and increasingly so — black culture when it comes to out-of-wedlock childbirth is entirely dishonest. If anything, “black culture” if we really want to suggest it is linked to the decision to bear children out-of-wedlock, must be improving, rather than regressing. So conservatives should be celebrating these trends.

Meanwhile, as I noted — and since black single women are already cutting back on childbearing — there is only one other way that that 72 percent number could be brought down. But it is unlikely that conservative white folks are going to push for it: namely, if black couples started having 5, 6, even 10 kids each, that number (the percentage of black births that are out of wedlock as a percentage of all black births) would be cut in half within a year or so. So, since single black women are already behaving increasingly “responsibly” in terms of their childbearing behavior, how about it white folks? How about we push for a massive increase in married black womens’ fertility? Maybe pass out fertility drugs so they can have triplets and quads? Maybe encourage them to go the “full Dugger family” and have 20? That way, the share of out-of-wedlock births in the black community can plummet and everyone can stop talking about shit they don’t understand. Oh, and the black population would also skyrocket, so…

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

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