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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Content Protection
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).
An instant New York Times bestseller, named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Amazon, and Entertainment Weekly, among others, this celebrated account of a young African-American man who escaped Newark, NJ, to attend Yale, but still faced the dangers of the streets when he returned is, “nuanced and shattering” (People) and “mesmeric” (The New York Times Book Review).

When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert’s life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn’t get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, trying to fit in at Yale, and at home on breaks.

A compelling and honest portrait of Robert’s relationships—with his struggling mother, with his incarcerated father, with his teachers and friends—The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace encompasses the most enduring conflicts in America: race, class, drugs, community, imprisonment, education, family, friendship, and love. It’s about the collision of two fiercely insular worlds—the ivy-covered campus of Yale University and the slums of Newark, New Jersey, and the difficulty of going from one to the other and then back again. It’s about trying to live a decent life in America. But most all this “fresh, compelling” (The Washington Post) story is about the tragic life of one singular brilliant young man. His end, a violent one, is heartbreaking and powerful and “a haunting American tragedy for our times” (Entertainment Weekly).
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.

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