Six of 10 births out of wedlock

Published 7:30 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Six of 10 births in Decatur County are to unwed mothers.

That alarming fact was the basis of a presentation given to the Bainbridge Rotary Club Tuesday by Ami Mejia, coordinator of the Decatur County Family Connection.

In 2006, the last year such statistics are available, out-of-wedlock births accounted for 59.6 percent of all births in Decatur County, a rate that outpaced both Southwest Georgia, at 57 percent, and the state of Georgia average of 42 percent.

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The high rate is “a very complex issue with lots of varied reasons and is not simply a teen problem,” said Mejia.

In fact, 58 percent of births were to mothers aged 20 to 24, and 53 percent were to mothers from 25 to 29 years old.

Mejia cited many societal factors that contribute to higher than ideal numbers. Factors such as an increase in cohabitation rates, an increase in the average age of first marriage, and the decrease of the negative stigmas associated with unwed mothers are among the leading causes of out-of-wedlock births.

Other causes of out-of-wedlock births are the perceived status of having a baby, a mother simply wanting someone to love them, and our more sexualized society.

“Many simply don’t think beyond the moment,” said Mejia. “They don’t think of the consequences.”

Mejia mentioned that children born to single mothers are often poor, have behavioral issues, drop out of school, end up in the criminal justice system, have low self esteem and remain unmarried later in life.

However, there are always exceptions.

“We have a president now that was born to single mother. These children can become president of the United States, but the majority will have many of these issues,” explained Mejia.

Debunking a popular perception, Mejia said that financial gain is typically not a significant reason why children are born out of wedlock.

“In Decatur County, a family of three receives $280 monthly in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families),” said Mejia. “If more children are added to the family, the money does not increase. And I am proud to say that we do not have any mothers on TANF in Decatur County. We have a few grandmothers, but no mothers.”

Another non-factor is the lack of access to birth control. Only 1 percent of unwed mothers report this as being a factor to having a baby.

Mejia cited the influence of a father figure and a more structured family life as ways to reduce the occurrence of out of wedlock births.

“Fathers play a huge role in a daughter’s decisions relative to teenage pregnancy. Studies show that good father/daughter relationships decrease the chance of the teenage daughter becoming pregnant.”