Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage

Brookings Institution Press
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Over half of all births to young adults in the United States now occur outside of marriage, and many are unplanned. The result is increased poverty and inequality for children. The left argues for more social support for unmarried parents; the right argues for a return to traditional marriage.

In Generation Unbound, Isabel V. Sawhill offers a third approach: change "drifters" into "planners." In a well-written and accessible survey of the impact of family structure on child well-being, Sawhill contrasts "planners," who are delaying parenthood until after they marry, with "drifters," who are having unplanned children early and outside of marriage. These two distinct patterns are contributing to an emerging class divide and threatening social mobility in the United States.

Sawhill draws on insights from the new field of behavioral economics, showing that it is possible, by changing the default, to move from a culture that accepts a high number of unplanned pregnancies to a culture in which adults only have children when they are ready to be a parent.

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About the author

Isabel V. Sawhill is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings, where she holds the Cabot Family Chair. She also serves as codirector of the Center on Children and Families. She is the coauthor (with Ron Haskins) of Creating an Opportunity Society (Brookings, 2009) and board president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Sep 25, 2014
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Pages
212
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ISBN
9780815725596
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / General
Social Science / Abortion & Birth Control
Social Science / Social Classes & Economic Disparity
Social Science / Sociology / Marriage & Family
Social Science / Women's Studies
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This content is DRM protected.
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In the United States, long considered the land of opportunity, children born into different types of families begin life with very unequal prospects. A growing group of children is being raised in families in which a poorly educated mother begins childbearing at an early age, often outside marriage, and ends up dependent on public welfare. Another group is raised by parents who delay childbearing until they are well-educated, married, and have stable jobs; these children go on to lead more advantageous lives. While virtually everyone talks about the importance of investing in the next generation, in the late 1990s federal spending on children represented only 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. This volume argues forcefully that the life prospects of children at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder can be improved substantially—and the growing gap between them and more privileged children reduced—by making appropriate investments now. Taking their cue on funding from the Blair government in the United Kingdom, which since 1997 has invested almost an extra 1 percent of GDP to reducing child poverty, the contributors offer specific proposals, along with their rationales and costs, to improve early childhood education and health care, bolster family income and work, reduce teen pregnancy, encourage and strengthen marriage, and allow families to move to better neighborhoods. The final chapter assesses the progress of the Blair government toward reaching its goals. Contributors include Isabel Sawhill (Brookings Institution), Greg Duncan (Northwestern University), Katherine Magnuson (Columbia University), Andrea Kane (Brookings Institution), Sara McLanahan (Princeton University), Irwin Garfinkel (Columbia University), Robert Haveman (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Jens Ludwig (Georgetown University), David Armor (George Mason University), Barbara Wolfe (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Scott Scrivner (Public/Private Ventures), and John Hills (London School of Economics).
The New York Times bestseller
A New York Times Notable and Critics’ Top Book of 2016
Longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
One of NPR's 10 Best Books Of 2016 Faced Tough Topics Head On
NPR's Book Concierge Guide To 2016’s Great Reads
San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2016: 100 recommended books
A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2016
Globe & Mail 100 Best of 2016

“Formidable and truth-dealing . . . necessary.” —The New York Times

“This eye-opening investigation into our country’s entrenched social hierarchy is acutely relevant.” —O Magazine

In her groundbreaking  bestselling history of the class system in America, Nancy Isenberg upends history as we know it by taking on our comforting myths about equality and uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing—if occasionally entertaining—poor white trash.
 
“When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there’s always a chance that the dancing bear will win,” says Isenberg of the political climate surrounding Sarah Palin. And we recognize how right she is today. Yet the voters who boosted Trump all the way to the White House have been a permanent part of our American fabric, argues Isenberg.

The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement to today's hillbillies. They were alternately known as “waste people,” “offals,” “rubbish,” “lazy lubbers,” and “crackers.” By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called “clay eaters” and “sandhillers,” known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.
 
Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.
 
We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation’s history. With Isenberg’s landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well.
Americans believe economic opportunity is as fundamental a right as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More concerned about a level playing field for all, they worry less about the growing income and wealth disparity in our country. Creating an Opportunity Society examines economic opportunity in the United States and explores how to create more of it, particularly for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill propose a concrete agenda for increasing opportunity that is cost effective, consistent with American values, and focuses on improving the lives of the young and the disadvantaged. They emphasize individual responsibility as an indispensable basis for successful policies and programs.

The authors recommend a three-pronged approach to create more opportunity in America:

• Increase education for children and youth at the preschool, K–12, and postsecondary levels

• Encourage and support work among adults

• Reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births while increasing the share of children reared by their married parents

With concern for the federal deficit in mind, Haskins and Sawhill argue for reallocating existing resources, especially from the affluent elderly to disadvantaged children and their families. The authors are optimistic that a judicious use of the nation's resources can level the playing field and produce more opportunity for all.

Creating an Opportunity Society offers the most complete summary available of the facts and the factors that contribute to economic opportunity. It looks at the poor, the middle class, and the rich, providing deep background data on how each group has fared in recent decades. Unfortunately, only the rich have made substantial progress, making this book a timely guide forward for anyone interested in what we can do as a society to improve the prospects for our less-advantaged families and fellow citizens.

In the United States, long considered the land of opportunity, children born into different types of families begin life with very unequal prospects. A growing group of children is being raised in families in which a poorly educated mother begins childbearing at an early age, often outside marriage, and ends up dependent on public welfare. Another group is raised by parents who delay childbearing until they are well-educated, married, and have stable jobs; these children go on to lead more advantageous lives. While virtually everyone talks about the importance of investing in the next generation, in the late 1990s federal spending on children represented only 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. This volume argues forcefully that the life prospects of children at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder can be improved substantially—and the growing gap between them and more privileged children reduced—by making appropriate investments now. Taking their cue on funding from the Blair government in the United Kingdom, which since 1997 has invested almost an extra 1 percent of GDP to reducing child poverty, the contributors offer specific proposals, along with their rationales and costs, to improve early childhood education and health care, bolster family income and work, reduce teen pregnancy, encourage and strengthen marriage, and allow families to move to better neighborhoods. The final chapter assesses the progress of the Blair government toward reaching its goals. Contributors include Isabel Sawhill (Brookings Institution), Greg Duncan (Northwestern University), Katherine Magnuson (Columbia University), Andrea Kane (Brookings Institution), Sara McLanahan (Princeton University), Irwin Garfinkel (Columbia University), Robert Haveman (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Jens Ludwig (Georgetown University), David Armor (George Mason University), Barbara Wolfe (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Scott Scrivner (Public/Private Ventures), and John Hills (London School of Economics).
The United States is standing at a critical juncture in its fiscal outlook. After experiencing a brief period of budget surpluses at the turn of the century, the federal government will run deficits that add about $4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. Substantial deficits will likely continue long into the future because the looming retirement of the baby boom generation will raise spending in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. At the same time, the federal government appears to be neglecting spending in key areas of social and economic policy. The nation thus faces a vital choice: continue down a path toward future fiscal crisis while under investing in critical areas, or increase resources in high-priority areas while also reducing the overall budget deficit. This choice will materially affect Americans' economic status and security in the immediate future as well as over long horizons. In R estoring Fiscal Sanity, a group of Brookings scholars with high-level government experience provide an overview of the country's likely medium- and long-term spending needs and the resources available to pay for them. They propose three alternative fiscal paths that are more responsible than the current path. One plan emphasizes spending cuts, the second emphasizes revenue increases, and a third is a balanced mix between the two.

The contributors address the policy choices in such areas as defense, homeland security, international assistance, and programs targeted to the less advantaged, the elderly, and other domestic priorities. In the process, they provide an understanding of the short- and long-run trade offs and illustrate how the budget can be reshaped to achieve high priority objectives in a fiscally responsible way.

Americans believe economic opportunity is as fundamental a right as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More concerned about a level playing field for all, they worry less about the growing income and wealth disparity in our country. Creating an Opportunity Society examines economic opportunity in the United States and explores how to create more of it, particularly for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill propose a concrete agenda for increasing opportunity that is cost effective, consistent with American values, and focuses on improving the lives of the young and the disadvantaged. They emphasize individual responsibility as an indispensable basis for successful policies and programs.

The authors recommend a three-pronged approach to create more opportunity in America:

• Increase education for children and youth at the preschool, K–12, and postsecondary levels

• Encourage and support work among adults

• Reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births while increasing the share of children reared by their married parents

With concern for the federal deficit in mind, Haskins and Sawhill argue for reallocating existing resources, especially from the affluent elderly to disadvantaged children and their families. The authors are optimistic that a judicious use of the nation's resources can level the playing field and produce more opportunity for all.

Creating an Opportunity Society offers the most complete summary available of the facts and the factors that contribute to economic opportunity. It looks at the poor, the middle class, and the rich, providing deep background data on how each group has fared in recent decades. Unfortunately, only the rich have made substantial progress, making this book a timely guide forward for anyone interested in what we can do as a society to improve the prospects for our less-advantaged families and fellow citizens.

The Brookings Institution's Welfare Reform & Beyond Initiative was created to inform the critical policy debates surrounding the upcoming congressional reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and a number of related programs that were created or dramatically altered by the 1996 landmark welfare reform legislation. The goal of the project has been to take the large volume of existing and forthcoming research studies and shape them into a more coherent and policy-oriented whole. This capstone collection gathers twenty brief essays (published between January 2001 and February 2002) that focus on assessing the record of welfare reform, specific issues likely to be debated before the TANF reauthorization, and a broader set of policy options for low-income families. It is a reader-friendly volume that will provide policymakers, the press, and the interested public with a comprehensive guide to the numerous issues that must be addressed as Congress considers the future of the nation's antipoverty policies. The collection covers the following topics and features a new introduction from the editors: - An Overview of Effects to Date - Welfare Reform Reauthorization: An Overview of Problems and Issues - A Tax Proposal for Working Families with Children - Welfare Reform and Poverty - Reducing Non-Marital Births - Which Welfare Reforms are Best for Children? - Welfare and the Economy - What Can Be Done to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Out-of-Wedlock Births? - Changing Welfare Offices - State Programs - Welfare Reform and Employment - Fragile Families, Welfare Reform, and Marriage - Health Insurance, Welfare, and Work - Helping the Hard-to-Employ - Sanctions and Welfare Reform - Child Care and Welfare Reform - Job Retention and Advancement in Welfare Reform - Housing and Welfare Reform - Non-Citizens - Block Grant Structure - Food Stamps - Work Support System - Possible Welfare Reform in the Cities
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