As shown in a leading study, most unmarried mothers (82 percent) are still romantically involved with the baby’s father when the baby is born, in most cases living together, and the two parents hope and intend to raise their child together. So, in reality, for every 10 American babies, on average, six are born to a married couple, three to an unmarried but involved couple, and only one to a mother not romantically involved with the baby’s father.
This presents an important opportunity. Studies show that when parents stay together, most families benefit. Parents tend to get and hold jobs, family wealth increases, kids do better in school, and family members generally report better health and happiness than in single-parent families. Communities gain through higher tax revenue and lower social costs.
But those opportunities are lost when families fall apart. Close to half of all US marriages end in divorce, and breakups among unmarried parenting couples are even more common.
There’s a lot that we can do to help families stay and even thrive together. We don’t need expensive new programs, and we can almost certainly save money in the long run. These key strategies can help:
1. Seize the moment. The first year of a baby’s life is a crucial window of opportunity. Right then, when parents have high hopes for raising their child together – but also face the high stress of infancy – it’s essential to help families meet challenges together.
2. Serve families as families. Many services for vulnerable infants tend to be offered primarily to mothers, or to mothers and fathers separately, perhaps on the assumption that unmarried parents aren’t a long-term team. A program teaching safe infant care to low-income new parents, for example, may offer classes or home visits primarily to mothers, with perhaps a once-a-week support group for dads.