Disturbing facts about single-mother births, including thousands in Mississippi, released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics, bears heavily on the annual State of the Region meeting on Thursday in Tupelo.
The meeting at BancorpSouth Conference Center, sponsored by the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, plans discussions about dropout prevention and education in the South.
The statistics center, a division of the federal Centers for Disease Control, is the authoritative source for information about the health of children and the circumstances bearing on their well-being.
In 2007, the last fully tabulated official reporting year, 39.7 percent of all U.S. births – nearly four out of every 10 newborns, up from 34 percent in 2002 and more than double the percentage in 1980 – were to unmarried mothers.
About 86 percent of the births to teenagers were to single moms, but 60 percent of births to women 20-24 and nearly one-third of births to women 25-29, were nonmarital nationwide.
In Mississippi, the overall percentage for 2007 is even more troubling – 53.7 percent of all Mississippi babies were born to single mothers. That’s all races and ethnicities – 32.2 percent of white babies and 78.2 percent of black babies, as major demographic measures. Those two categories account for the statistically most important number of live births.
Mississippi also had the highest birth rate to teenagers, most of whom in every state aren’t married when they have babies. Mississippi teenagers accounted for 68 births per 1,000 live births, first in the nation. That’s a 1,000-baby increase in one year, pushing Mississippi past New Mexico (64 per 1,000) and Texas (63 per 1,000). New Hampshire, by contrast, had a rate of 19 per 1,000.
Mississippi’s troubling rankings for teen births and overall single-mother babies are related to race, ethnicity, poverty and to proportionate populations of blacks and Hispanics, which have higher non-marital birth rates nationwide.
The number of babies born to unmarried women in their 20s and 30s also has increased dramatically across the race-ethnicity spectrum.
The negative implications for public education in Mississippi are certain and enormous.
State Board of Education Trustee Claude Hartley, Tupelo, said it is one of “top five” issues of concern statewide.
Hartley said the state board has engaged the issue in dialogue with the Mississippi State Board of Health, but no final direction has been charted.
Hartley said non-martial children have greater risk factors and challenges to educational attainment across the board.
As the graph is moving, continuing 13-year school cycles could be majority-non-marital children in our state’s schools.
The odds for fully successful development and learning are weighted heavily – but not unalterably – against children from single-mother households.
Many studies show that students who are poor (more likely in single-mother households), who are members of certain minority groups, and who are male are more are more likely to drop out.
Students who come from single parent families and have a mother who dropped out of high school (more likely in single-mother households, especially with teenage mothers) are more likely to drop out.
“We know that babies and children do best with committed, stable adult parents – preferably married,” said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in a Washington Post article. “That tends to be the arrangement that produces the best outcome for children. I look at this and say, ‘Maybe this trend is what young adults want or stumble into, but it’s not in the best interest of children.’”
Some people like to blame public schools for every problem. Schools don’t cause single adult women to have children, nor teenage girls. The social norms are changing problematically, and the causes are multiple. All the stabilizing institutions – extended families and churches particularly – should re-examine their roles.
Schools must have a single-minded focus on keeping in school children from single-parent/absent father households, as well as new teenage mothers themselves.
That’s where decisively executed, effectively planned, and consistently applied dropout prevention becomes the altering factor pulling high-risk children away from the lifelong disaster of inadequate education.
Schools aren’t equipped to massively change the behavior of irresponsible parents or widely changing attitudes about marriage, but their effective intervention in lives of individual children can offset educationally even the worst circumstances.
NEMS Daily Journal