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Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage

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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 "drifter 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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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 "drifter 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.

30 review for Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tess

    Sawhill does a good job summarizing the current research about family formation, and she's the first economist I've seen who uses behavioral economics to discuss how long-acting contraceptives (LARCs) can help people delay parenthood until they're ready. She spells out liberal and conservative arguments about how to support families and then clearly stakes out her own position. I agree with her policy suggestions, but I would have liked to hear more about how she suggests overcoming conservative Sawhill does a good job summarizing the current research about family formation, and she's the first economist I've seen who uses behavioral economics to discuss how long-acting contraceptives (LARCs) can help people delay parenthood until they're ready. She spells out liberal and conservative arguments about how to support families and then clearly stakes out her own position. I agree with her policy suggestions, but I would have liked to hear more about how she suggests overcoming conservative objections to birth control in general and LARCs in particular.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood" is an important and comprehensive expose of how unplanned parenthood in the lives of the "drifters" (low income/poor) severely limits economic success and opportunity. Half of all US births to unmarried young adults are unplanned. Sociologist Isabel V. Sawhill examines these startling trends without judgment, as she draws a comparison to the "planners" college educated adults, who establish their careers before marriage, marry within their c "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood" is an important and comprehensive expose of how unplanned parenthood in the lives of the "drifters" (low income/poor) severely limits economic success and opportunity. Half of all US births to unmarried young adults are unplanned. Sociologist Isabel V. Sawhill examines these startling trends without judgment, as she draws a comparison to the "planners" college educated adults, who establish their careers before marriage, marry within their class, their children are carefully planned, their divorce rate low. These "planner" families reach a level of stability and economic prosperity not experienced by the "drifters". With decades of research available to support her findings, Sawhill discusses the cultural acceptance of the "hook-up culture" recreational sex; also unwed parenthood- the taboo and stigma against this from the 1950's-1960's where sexual relationships led to commitment and marriage. Single parent families represented only 7% of the population in 1950 and increased to 32% in 2013. Ambitious college students focus on their education first, followed by established employment, marriage and children. The "hook-up" culture clearly benefits men the most, (affecting college, middle class, and lower income people) may lead to multiple partnered relationships where single parenthood (and the children born of these unions) are the norm and culturally accepted, without the stability of marriage. Economic prospects for men and women with only a high school education/GED are limited to low wage work typically in the service economy. This has particularly reduced the pool of marriageable men, especially with the rates of male incarceration factored in. Men have lost their traditional status and authoritative place in society as women have asserted theirs. These cultural shifts began in the 1960’s, as women left their traditional place as homemakers and entered the work force. Children of single unmarried mothers (without a college education) are likely to be poor, the disadvantages of these children are well documented: from emotional, behavioral and physical problems, to lower academic test scores and need for special education services. Boys are more adversely affected than girls, presumably by the loss of a father role model in the home. Researchers have noted the instability of unmarried low income families: It is astonishing that 23% of the unmarried mothers had children by 2 different fathers, 16% by three different fathers, and 8% by four or more different fathers. Even if a mother didn’t have additional children, a full 78% of children born in unmarried households experienced a major change in their home by age 5. These homes are increasingly stressful, with harsher authoritative parenting styles, and less time for child educational and learning opportunities. Co-habiting couples spend less time and resources on their children compared to married parents. Some children may be upset that a “social” father is expected to replace a “biological” father. In many cases, these children do not have a stable consistent relationship with absent fathers, others have no relationship. In his book: “Fatherless America” (1995) David Blankenhorn identifies this as “our most urgent social problem.” It is unlikely marriage levels will return to the peak of the 1970's. However, without the support of the greater community and improvement of public policies in all forms of education, employment, health care, child care subsidies, families will be unable to thrive, they need and require assistance- especially single parents. The US is far behind other developed countries in supporting family-friendly government policies, and this must change if we are to compete effectively in the global economy. Education and promotion for responsible family planning must be a given higher priority, increased awareness is needed to ensure the best outcome for all families. Isabel V. Sawhill has authored landmark research on divorce studies. She serves as the co-director of the Center on Children and Families, also the Board President of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Also the co-author of “Creating an Opportunity Society” (2009). Many thanks and much appreciation for the ARC of “Generation Unbound” (2014) for the purpose of this review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    *I received an advanced reading copy of this book through Goodreads.com's First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.* First off, this book was well written in my opinion. Though it was written with an academic tone, I did not find it to be over my head or bogged down with technical terminology. I thought the breakdown of the chapters made sense and flowed well. Isabel V. Sawhill clearly did her research and blended it with her own experience to communicate the information. I agree with *I received an advanced reading copy of this book through Goodreads.com's First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.* First off, this book was well written in my opinion. Though it was written with an academic tone, I did not find it to be over my head or bogged down with technical terminology. I thought the breakdown of the chapters made sense and flowed well. Isabel V. Sawhill clearly did her research and blended it with her own experience to communicate the information. I agree with Sawhill that marriage is the best environment in which to raise children, but that is about where our agreement ends. Regardless, I thought for the most part she presented both sides of the issues well without giving too much weight to either. The only exception was in the chapter about contraceptives; I felt there were inconsistencies in giving so much weight to the benefits without discussing the possible risks. Even though I do not agree with Sawhill on many points, I found this book informative about our culture as a whole. I would recommend to anyone interested in sociological issues like marriage, and to those who enjoy academic reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood" is an important and comprehensive expose of how unplanned parenthood in the lives of the "drifters" (low income/poor) severely limits economic success and opportunity. Half of all US births to unmarried young adults are unplanned. Sociologist Isabel V. Sawhill examines these startling trends without judgment, as she draws a comparison to the "planners" college educated adults, who establish their careers before marriage, marry within their c "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood" is an important and comprehensive expose of how unplanned parenthood in the lives of the "drifters" (low income/poor) severely limits economic success and opportunity. Half of all US births to unmarried young adults are unplanned. Sociologist Isabel V. Sawhill examines these startling trends without judgment, as she draws a comparison to the "planners" college educated adults, who establish their careers before marriage, marry within their class, their children are carefully planned, their divorce rate low. These "planner" families reach a level of stability and economic prosperity not experienced by the "drifters". With decades of research available to support her findings, Sawhill discusses the cultural acceptance of the "hook-up culture" recreational sex; also unwed parenthood- the taboo and stigma against this from the 1950's-1960's where sexual relationships led to commitment and marriage. Single parent families represented only 7% of the population in 1950 and increased to 32% in 2013. Ambitious college students focus on their education first, followed by established employment, marriage and children. The "hook-up" culture clearly benefits men the most, (affecting college, middle class, and lower income people) also multiple partnered relationships where single parenthood (and the children born of these unions) are the norm and culturally accepted, without the stability of marriage. Economic prospects for men and women with only a high school education/GED are limited to low wage work typically in the service economy. This has particularly reduced the pool of marriageable men, especially with the rates of male incarceration factored in. Men have lost their traditional status and authoritative place in society as women have asserted theirs. These cultural shifts began in the 1960’s, as women left their traditional place as homemakers and entered the work force. Children of single unmarried mothers (without a college education) are likely to be poor, the disadvantages of these children are well documented: from emotional, behavioral and physical problems, to lower academic test scores and need for special education services. Boys are more adversely affected than girls, presumably by the loss of a father role model in the home. Researchers have noted the instability of unmarried low income families: It is astonishing that 23% of the unmarried mothers had children by 2 different fathers, 16% by three different fathers, and 8% by four or more different fathers. Even if a mother didn’t have additional children, a full 78% of children born in unmarried households experienced a major change in their home by age 5. These homes are increasingly stressful, with harsher authoritative parenting styles, and less time for child educational and learning opportunities. Co-habiting couples spend less time and resources on their children compared to married parents. Some children may be upset that a “social” father is expected to replace a “biological” father. In many cases, these children do not have a stable consistent relationship with absent fathers, others have no relationship. In his book: “Fatherless America” (1995) David Blankenhorn identifies this as “our most urgent social problem.” It is unlikely marriage levels will return to the peak of the 1970's. However, without the support of the greater community and improvement of public policies in all forms of education, employment, health care, child care subsidies, families will be unable to thrive, they need and require assistance- especially single parents. The US is far behind other developed countries in supporting family-friendly government policies, and this must change if we are to compete effectively in the global economy. Education and promotion for responsible family planning must be a given higher priority, increased awareness is needed to ensure the best outcome for all families. Isabel V. Sawhill has authored landmark research on divorce studies. She serves as the co-director of the Center on Children and Families, also the Board President of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Also the co-author of “Creating an Opportunity Society” (2009). Many thanks and much appreciation for the ARC of “Generation Unbound” (2014) for the purpose of this review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Robles

    Outstanding! Promulgation of LARC is the one thing that we absolutely should be doing first. The forty-seventh book I have finished this year. p. i.x. I have come to believe that social policy faces an uphill battle as long as families continue to garment and children are deprived of the resources of two parents. p. 3. The solution is to change the default from having children to not having them until you and your partner want them and are both ready to be parents. p. 4. Declining economic prospect Outstanding! Promulgation of LARC is the one thing that we absolutely should be doing first. The forty-seventh book I have finished this year. p. i.x. I have come to believe that social policy faces an uphill battle as long as families continue to garment and children are deprived of the resources of two parents. p. 3. The solution is to change the default from having children to not having them until you and your partner want them and are both ready to be parents. p. 4. Declining economic prospects for me have played a role. p. 5 - 6. Children raised in single-parent families typically do not do as well as those raised in married families. p. 7. The women in this group overwhelming say they did not want to have a child, at least not at this stage of their life. p. 8. In the meantime, the elderly are claiming a rising share of whatever resources exist. While I have argued elsewhere for a reallocation of resources from affluent elderly to younger families and their children, recent budget battles give little reason for optimism. p. 9. As a result, LARCs have been found, in practice, to be about forty times more effective than condoms and twenty times more effective than the pill at reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies. p. 15. Children have rights too. p. 25. Duke University economist Daniel Ariely calls the singles market "one of the most egregious market failures in Western society." p. 45. Two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Philip Cowan and Carolyn Pape Cowan, note that the drop in marital satisfaction after childbirth is almost entirely accounted for by couples who slid into being parents, disagreed about it, or were ambivalent about the conception. p. 67. . . . "Marriage is displacing both income and race as the great class divide of the new century." p. 74. "Doing right" does does not necessarily mean being a successful provider. p. 92. . . . . to stay out of poverty, individuals need to follow three steps: graduate from high school, work full-time, and wait until after age 21 to get married and have children (in that order). p. 100. The conservative opposition to birth control and abortion has extended to family planning clinics, particularly those run by Planned Parenthood. p. 110. The whole idea of not doing something now because it might make life tougher later did not seem to be part of their behavioral repertoire. p. 122. The 1996 welfare reform law included a provision requiring states to teach abstinence to teens. The literature evaluating what this has accomplished is not encouraging. p. 134 - 135. The problem is cultural; it is the failure of me to adjust as well as women have - both to the new economy and to new gender roles. p. 139. In the meantime, a first step should be to encourage women who want to avoid pregnancy to use the most effective forms of contraception available. p. 141 - 142. Until the United States gets serous about the nee to link spending on education to improvements in teaching, to innovative models such as those used by the best charter schools and by the Career Academies now found in many high schools, and to more effective postsecondary education and training opportunities, we will continue to have a large contingent of young adults who, because they are effectively excluded from participating fully in the modern economy, will also continue to drift into too-early childbearing. . . . Education begins in the home, and the ability to take advantage of what schools hove to offer comes from good parenting and motivated students, not just from good schools.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Generation Unbound by Isabel V. Sawhill is a free Goodreads FirstReads advance reader copy of a paperback book that I received in early October, one semester after I had taken a Sociology of Families course. Doing considerably well in that class and wanting to brush up a little more on the subject, I decided to sign up for this giveaway. Allaround, it reads like an extra long, academic thesis than something that non-scholars would consider approachable and worth a look at. It's filled with oodles Generation Unbound by Isabel V. Sawhill is a free Goodreads FirstReads advance reader copy of a paperback book that I received in early October, one semester after I had taken a Sociology of Families course. Doing considerably well in that class and wanting to brush up a little more on the subject, I decided to sign up for this giveaway. Allaround, it reads like an extra long, academic thesis than something that non-scholars would consider approachable and worth a look at. It's filled with oodles of research and disjointed personal theory where I had really hoped to find urban/rural case studies, ethnographic interviews, and a real, personable book where there was only data and criteria.

  7. 4 out of 5

    864cw

    Great book I dinked her one star because she didn’t do any research on how hormones drives us human to have sex. She only mentioned studies on delaying gratification. All her other finding confirm what I’ve been reading elsewhere. I believe we can achieve a strong society of healthy adults if women use their brains and the tools given to women to forgo having children until we are ready. Also, men need to take responsibility for their sex drive, especially when an unplanned pregnancy results in Great book I dinked her one star because she didn’t do any research on how hormones drives us human to have sex. She only mentioned studies on delaying gratification. All her other finding confirm what I’ve been reading elsewhere. I believe we can achieve a strong society of healthy adults if women use their brains and the tools given to women to forgo having children until we are ready. Also, men need to take responsibility for their sex drive, especially when an unplanned pregnancy results in a child. She talked about how divorce and abandonment especially affects young boys. She lists some great suggestions on what we can work on as a society. Please read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Reka Beezy

    Even though there are lots of gray areas in the problems we face, it really all boils down to the value system of the individual...or really how individual’s values are programmed into her/him. There are no 100% solutions, but this book presents several worth a try.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    Recieved a free copy through Goodreads First Reads. The first part of the book relates study after study showing that kids born and raised in single parent homes have a tougher time than children in 2 parent homes. I don't disagree that this is the case, but I did find it sad to read over and over, for the kids in those situations. The solutions the author presents are probably not the answer, but just steps in that direction. By how she presents the answers, I think she is also saying that we nee Recieved a free copy through Goodreads First Reads. The first part of the book relates study after study showing that kids born and raised in single parent homes have a tougher time than children in 2 parent homes. I don't disagree that this is the case, but I did find it sad to read over and over, for the kids in those situations. The solutions the author presents are probably not the answer, but just steps in that direction. By how she presents the answers, I think she is also saying that we need to start discussions on the single parenting issue, and is presenting what she would say are the initial answers to the issue. Overall I found the book well written, and a fairly easy read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Good premise, too much repeating. Every chapter was like a regurgitation of the one before it. It was also too much of a personal agenda of the author's but it wasn't as heavy-handed as it could have been which made it tolerable. I felt that she just reinforced the problems instead of offering actual solutions. And repeating facts that are already know such as African-Americans having a higher out of wedlock birth rate. Nothing new in shiny new packaging. Good premise, too much repeating. Every chapter was like a regurgitation of the one before it. It was also too much of a personal agenda of the author's but it wasn't as heavy-handed as it could have been which made it tolerable. I felt that she just reinforced the problems instead of offering actual solutions. And repeating facts that are already know such as African-Americans having a higher out of wedlock birth rate. Nothing new in shiny new packaging.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    I received this book as a first read. It's a quick but dry read that lacks passion. It's a quick fact filled overview of information on marriage and parenthood and the shift in cultural values. It lacked cohesion or a theme to hold it all together. I also think it would've been better to use footnotes rather than notes for easier reading. I received this book as a first read. It's a quick but dry read that lacks passion. It's a quick fact filled overview of information on marriage and parenthood and the shift in cultural values. It lacked cohesion or a theme to hold it all together. I also think it would've been better to use footnotes rather than notes for easier reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    K.j.

    an interesting book on the how the more recent American generations are dealing with mating and marriage in a time when we're seeing a loosening of cultural norms and expectations for both genders. an interesting book on the how the more recent American generations are dealing with mating and marriage in a time when we're seeing a loosening of cultural norms and expectations for both genders.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elyse

    Non-fiction. It concerns the cultural changes for women in our society today. Very interesting

  14. 4 out of 5

    April

    I won this book in a Goodreads "First Reads" Giveaway, but I didn't finish it. It's not for me... I won this book in a Goodreads "First Reads" Giveaway, but I didn't finish it. It's not for me...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    The author is dealing with serious problems and promoting evidence-based solutions like LARC. But she comes across as somewhat tone-deaf, so I'm not sure what the audience is. The author is dealing with serious problems and promoting evidence-based solutions like LARC. But she comes across as somewhat tone-deaf, so I'm not sure what the audience is.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

    I recieved a free copy through Goodreads First Reads. This was a very well written book and easy to read. The author was fair to the subject matter, there are no easy answers to the problems.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kieran may

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anny

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gloria Chen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wavemakers Feminist Book Club

  22. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

  23. 5 out of 5

    Wyn

  24. 4 out of 5

    Delores Flohr

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  26. 4 out of 5

    MICHAEL P

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Grannis

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ellen A

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hops

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