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.
Advance Praise for Generation Unbound
Forty years ago, Isabel Sawhill inspired a generation of scholars, including myself, with her landmark research on divorce. Now, she does it again, turning her sharp eye on non-marital childbearing with equal success. Free of ideology and comprehensive in scope, her story highlights how the decline in marriage is affecting children’s life chances and what might be done to reverse the trend.
—Sara S. McLanahan, William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Dr. Sawhill makes a thoughtful, fresh, rigorously documented case for reducing unplanned pregnancies. She pushes against a strong headwind to argue for two parent families as often as possible. If she is right about the economic and cultural implications about our changing procreation behavior, we have a lot of work to do.
—Donna Shalala, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services
No one is better qualified than Belle Sawhill to tackle two of the most important questions facing America today. At a time of rapidly changing family structure, who is best able to raise children? And how can we do a better job of making sure the children who are born are welcomed by parents who are prepared to give them the love and sustained attention they deserve? Full of new research and analysis, this book will make you re-think what you know about both.
—Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour
Belle Sawhill has written an extraordinary book that surfaces and analyzes the most important demographic shift of the last 50 years: the trend of young adults drifting into parenthood, rather than planning for it. The negative implications for the ability of young adults and their children to achieve the American Dream are profound and deeply troubling, but this superbly written book, drawing on insights from behavioral economics, provides clearheaded, actionable recommendations of how we can change course and ensure that every young person can achieve their full potential. Generation Unbound is a must read for policy makers, change agents, parents, anyone working to ensure that America continues to be the land of opportunity.
—Mark Edwards, Executive Director, Opportunity Nation
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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