ONE of the most tragic consequences of the sexual revolution has been the growing number of children born to unwed mothers. What passes as liberation for one generation becomes a trap for the next generation - those who are born without the support of a conventional family. Twenty-six percent of babies in the United States - 1 in 4 - are now born to unmarried women, compared with 10 percent in 1970. According to new federal statistics, more than 1 million infants were born to single women in 1988, the latest year for which figures are available. This marks the first time the number has exceeded a million.
For many of these single mothers and their children, the absence of a husband and father carries harsh penalties. Three-fifths of all poor children live in female-headed households, the Children's Defense Fund reported earlier this month. Infants born to single women also have lower birth weights and higher infant mortality rates.
During the past 20 years, married, two-parent families have come to be viewed as a quaint anachronism. Journalists and other social observers repeatedly explain that Ozzie and Harriett don't live here anymore.
Tolerance for "alternative lifestyles" and anything-goes definitions of the family have become the order of the day. From Hollywood to Wall Street, the image of single mothers has been glamorized in movies, on TV, and in the press.
Between 1980 and 1988, the birth rate for unmarried white women jumped 51 percent, while the rate for black women increased only 7 percent. At the same time, the average age of single mothers is rising, with the highest birth rate for unmarried women occurring in the 20-24 age group.
One million newborns a year with no father in the home - this is an unacceptable figure. As the condition of America's children continues to worsen - economically, educationally, emotionally - it is time to stop perpetuating the myth of the expendable father and the independent mother. The old jump-rope rhyme had the sequence right: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a mother with a baby carriage.