Why Are So Many Black Babies Born to Unwed Mothers?

by Liane Membis

The  single mother syndrome just got really real in the Black community.

According to government statistics,72 percent of Black children are born to unwed mothers.Dr. Natalie Carroll, an OB-GYN based in Houston, told AP that this trend is a common, one that she sees on a daily basis at her own practice.

“The girls don’t think they have to get married. I tell them children deserve a mama and a daddy. They really do,” Carroll said.

Conversation around the issue of births out of wedlock has gained attention from not only the Black community but legislators as well. Research has shown that children of single and unmarried mothers are more likely to  perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, make poor decisions, and continue the cycle by having their own children out of wedlock.

The statistics for African Americans is higher than any other racial group. In 2008, only 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of Whites, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unmarried women.

Carroll, in her interview with AP, stressed the importance of a bi-partnership in parenting.

“A mama can’t give it all. And neither can a daddy, not by themselves,” Carroll said. “Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child’s life.”

How do Black children end up in these  situations?

One thought is that Blacks are not predetermined to have the same progressive opportunities as their racial counterparts. Poverty and elusive forms of socioeconomic discrimination puts a high proportion of Blacks at a disadvantage, creating a large class of unskilled and non-competitive individuals locked out of the job market or sphere of academia.

Motivation to remain in committed relationships is also low—and that comes from both parties. With the popular “pimp” idea, many Black men find themselves moving from women to women in order to satisfy their egoistic needs. Likewise, Black women who give it up easily lower their value as women, making it easier for men to objectify and degrade them. This supply, demand, and patriarchal control system lessens the integrity of both the Black man and the Black woman; he feels no obligation to stay with a woman beyond what she can provide physically because she has communicated through her hot and fast ways that that’s all she is worth.   This relationship reflects how marriage has become undervalued in the Black community. Once a means for social mobility and familial growth, marriage for some Black men and women has become a spell-binding act, one that conflicts with the “bachelor experience” or a woman’s strong need for independence.

To really pinpoint where these statistics are coming from, we must examine the root of the problem—the psychological factors of familial situations and this constant search for love amongst a drove of inconsiderate Black men. The issue of unwed mothers occurs at a higher rate amongst young females in the African-American community who are easier targets to take advantage of because of their vulnerabilities. Harsh childhoods and poor environments have left many Black girls feeling that they need a man in their lives to make up for the “dad they never had” or the “lack of unconditional love” they didn’t receive when they were younger. This psychological need to substitute and create surrogates for love often encloses Black women in the trap of single motherhood.

More single Black mothers need to take control, and hold men accountable for their pertinent role in their children’s lives.  Often times, there is a submissive-controlling psychological game that occurs between weak Black women and dogged Black men that puts the lives of children in jeopardy, and attributes to the high rate of deteriorating Black relationships.

Although it may seem that a million death darts are being thrown at the Black community, we must acknowledge this heart-wrenching truth in order to identify the problems and solutions that we need to resolve over time and prevent the demise of the Black family.

  • SunnyDay


  • oknow

    i hate dumb ass questions.. we know why.. do we need to do a survey on it?!

  • Impersonal

    Interesting. Very important topic with not many replies.

  • Yoyoyo

    How many times can we beat this horse?

  • Been there, done that

    The most important thing is that both parents regardless of whether or not they are together are INVOLVED in the childs life. I agree a child needs both parents, its a cold cold world out there. But forcing marriage is not a solution in itself. Stressing parental involvement is!

  • jamesfrmphilly

    um, ladies could not have children?

  • Kema

    Until it dies or at least weakens…

  • Sammy23

    People are so in denial of the truth. “Beat a dead horse”–we might as well beat it and beat it until black babies are born to only 20% of single mothers not 72%!

  • Jinx Moneypenny

    Exactly. Why do these professionals keep pushing marriage as the solution? Why aren’t we pushing commitment to each other and to our children? Getting legally married to your child’s father does NOT, I repeat, does NOT mean that yall are committed to each other or to the child; drop some stats on THAT because that is ALSO an issue I find people don’t ever bring up.

    Somehow we seem to hold marriage to this high ass standard that a single Black mother falls short of, when we need to be holding COMMITMENT, whether one is married or not, to be the standard.

    A marriage is NOTHING without commitment. And I have yet to hear the Black community fostering the concept of that, that which needs to be the basis of ALL relationships. We stay using the institution of marriage as something to aspire to when the issue runs much deeper than that.

  • Yoyoyo

    Sammy, you can quote statistics until the cows come home, if there isn’t a call-to-action for the problem then what good is an article?

    I say education is the key. I’d like to see articles about what we are doing to turn these numbers around and steps we can take to help. For example, direction to youth mentorships and such.

  • SunnyDay

    Too close to home…the truth hurts!
    This statement knocked my socks off…almost cried so personel…

    “This supply, demand, and patriarchal control system lessens the integrity of both the black man and the woman; he feels no obligation to stay with a woman beyond what she can provide physically because she has communicated through her hot and fast ways that that’s all she is worth.”

    Even I must admit that I need to do better. We must protect our wombs from abuse. Including abuse from ourselves. I think we are in so much need of love that the only way to obtain it is through children who have no choice but to love you. Very sad but true I think…we drank up that ‘Ms Independant’ juice so much now our babies are choking on it….

  • SuzyQ

    Present the problem.
    Explain “why”.
    Show solutions on how to resolve it.


  • cherbear

    Wow. Here we go again. I agree with the people who said ‘we know why’.

    I mean, it’s quite simple. Some Black people don’t want to change. So leave them to their destruction. No amount of education or condoms will help some people.

    It’s not about people legally marrying each other. It’s just about men and women acting like adults and raising a child in a 2 parent “household”. There’s nothing wrong with common law. The single mothers are just as much to blame as the absentee fathers these days.

    I do think both parents need to be together. I’m tired of people thinking that it is okay to raise a child from afar. It’s not.

    I hope to see the day society as a whole changes.

    Thanks clutch.

  • S.

    I honestly don’t know what to say!

    These statistics (as usual) are TERRIBLE! Embarrassing! Humiliating! Sobering! All that and more!

    You can list a million reasons why Black women would be more likely to produce children unmarried, without fathers but the truth is… there is NO excuse!

    If I’ve been taking responsibility since forever, then why can’t they? I REFUSE to have children (sex even) until my spouse and I are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially ready. Yes, I love my unborn children *that* much! I think about these things because there are too many things at stake.

    I don’t want my children to grow up poor and without a father like I did. Why? It’s so unnecessary!

    Black Women: Break the cycle! Please!!

  • SAL

    Here’s my question: why won’t black women insist on birth control? I really just don’t get this. It’s not like other races don’t have sex out of marriage. I really think the church and our backward, hypocritical mores are one of the biggest problems here. We don’t teach our children about sex, about sexual protection, about the consequences of unprotected sex. It is bizarre. It is almost like black mothers want to ruin their daughter’s lives, like theirs were ruined, by perpetuating the syndrome. If you have a daughter, or a niece, or a young friend, teach her about sex, relationships, the consequences of bringing a child into a world when she’s not educated or financially stable. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about sex, love, or babies, get some education and healing so you can. And single mothers, please talk to your sons and raise them to be responsible human beings who don’t go around taking out their daddy issues on young women. Stop the cycle!

  • Alexandra

    I agree with cherbear, S. and SAL. I have the same exact thoughts.
    There are some women that have children to men who have no interest in them or the child. And Birth Control comes in too many forms, shapes, sizes & even colors for these issues to remain. There should be no excuses at all. I don’t feel marriage is the ultimate solution either.
    Commitment is. My aunt has been raising my cousins with her spouse (my uncle) for over 20 yrs. They’re not married (I thought they were), but they’ve always been raising my cousins together.

    Black women are the only ones who can break ‘this’ cycle. I’m even breaking a cycle in my family as I speak. :)

  • http://bourgieinterrupted.com Kia, JD

    I have all kinds of thoughts and opinions about this piece. Instead of writing a lengthy comment I was inspired to write at my own blog about this. The short version: While there are many black children born to unwed mothers where they are probably not in the best situation for healthy and successful lives, I think there are some conclusions above that don’t necessarily follow from the statements made. There are reasons beyond black women “giving it up” and our “predetermined” exclusion from progressive opportunities – whatever that’s supposed to mean – for the growing trend of passing up on marriage.

  • WoW

    what’s funny is most would assume that all the mothers are black. HA!

  • Hmmmmm

    Here’s yet another example where critical thinking skills are sorely lacking.

    More care needs to be taken as to how this “72% is perceived, interpreted, etc.”

    We know that “42% of Black women have never been married,” which is a statistic provided on CNN’s “Black in America” last year or you can simply get that info from the U.S. Census.

    If 42% of Black women have “never been married,” what does that mean?!



    In order for a Black woman to hold any of the preceding statuses (married, divorced, widowed)….she had to be married, right?!

    Hence, that 42% are having more children than the Black women who are either “married, divorced, or widowed.”

    However, there is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much focus on the “72%”….that people wrongly interpret that as conveying that “72% of Black women are single and/or never married.”
    That is wrong…as proven by the 58%.

    Two, what would happen to that “72%”…if married Black couples began having more children? Say one or two more per couple?!

    That 72% would significantly decrease.

    Three, not all “single-parent” Black families are representative of the “stereotypical Black single-parent woman”: high school dropout, no work history or skills, little or no coping skills, no parenting skills, etc.

    I see many single Black women here in Lexington and surrounding areas, who are not only single, but they’re either attending college or college-educated, making over $35,000 per year, etc., etc., etc.

    Hence, more research is needed for this issue….to ascertain….”if the children of divorced and widowed Black women”…are being counted as “single-parents.”

    I lay the blame for the “mis-interpretation of these numbers” on various schools of social work, family studies programs, White talk radio, and “those Blacks who embrace such numbers/mis-interpretations…without challenging the interpretation of the data.”

    As I wrote above, if “the 58% of Black women who are “married or once married” had more children…that 72% stat would not exist.

    You can’t view this issue solely in terms of “single-parent Black families.”

    Basically, this can be characterized by a simple algebraic formula:

    As the “percentage represented by X” decreases, Y’s percentage increases.

    X= children produced by Black married couples.

    Y= children produced by non-married individuals.

    Thirty years ago, Black married families (like Whites and other groups) had 4 or more children.
    Today, such couples are only having one or two.

    Hence, that 72% is generated by the “decrease in child production by Black married couples.”

    But that’s NOT what White talk radio, your social work professors, etc…have told you, have they?!

  • Viva Lola

    @ oknown If “WE” really knew WHY… this topic would not be! The black community is in DANGER!!! Black men are the CANCER in the community PERIOD. The writer failed to mention black men that are in JAIL and have children some where in the world. It’s truly SAD!!!! BLACK WOMEN WAKE UP… LOVE YOURSELF!!

    The writer could say this better…

    Although it may seem that a million death darts are being thrown at the Black community, we must acknowledge the heart-wrenching truth in order to identify the problems and solutions that we need to resolve over time and prevent the demise of the Black family.

    So true!

  • Kjen

    I’m a strong proponent of marriage but I have to call fail on this “article”.

    The premise of the title was about why there are so many single mothers in the black community. But after citing the 72 percent out of wedlock statistic from government statistics, the author cites no other studies, but instead wanders through a collection of other popular Black OOW ‘theories’.
    In short nothing new.
    And no, I don’t consider citing the same old statistics and theories that are already quite popular as furthering the dialogue or providing useful insight.

  • Jazz

    Articles such as these always end up the same way: lots of theories and hypotheses are thrown out, but there are no ideas for a solution. We can continue to go about pushing marriage as THE only solution and directly/indirectly slut shaming Black women, or we can take the other route, which is educating and empowering ourselves and each other. Marriage is not a destination; it’s a commitment you arrive to if you feel that’s what you want. Relationships don’t always work out, but when there is a child borne of it, it is the responsibility of BOTH mother and father to raise that child.

    I agree with a couple of Sal’s points as well. Parents should leave sex education to the schools; it’s something that really needs to start at home. I really do believe it is our inability to actually allow ourselves to change that is the main detriment to us. The cycle of single motherhood has as much to deal with men as it does women. As women, we need to confront and face our issues, whether it’s daddy issues, low self-esteem, etc; Men have to realize that you’re really screwing your child for life by not having a relationship with them.

  • S.

    What you fail to realize is that nobody (well, at least not me) is assuming anything beyond what is written….

    “72% of Black babies is born to unwed mothers”

    You can slice it and dice up all you want but at the end of the day ’72% of Black children’ are being born in unstable conditions… whether it’s mother and father who are dating not married, single-mother, educated single mother, etc, doesn’t matter! It is more likely that the BULK of these children are being raised by one parent!

    The problem with the Black community is that “we” don’t feel like ‘marriage’ is a necessity. We feel that we can just ‘love’ each other and commitment will follow. That’s why we’re in this mess… that scenario hardly ever plays out

    Whoever mentioned their aunt and uncle being together for years without the marriage papers; that is the exception NOT the rule! It would be like me telling young students that they can be successful without attending college and then showing them people like Tyra Banks, Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. It’s Misleading!

    STOP leading our community on! Just STOP!

    Let me give you some statistics about children…

    - 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
    - 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes
    - 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes
    - 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes
    - 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes
    - 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes
    - 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.

    … and on and on and on

    Doesn’t matter if ‘water-down’ the statistics by looking at it in a way that doesn’t offend yourself, we have to be honest here. Our community is trouble and we need to stop playing with fire thinking we won’t get burned!

  • MP

    So your solution is changing the statistic by increasing the number of children born to legally married couples?
    How does this help the children that are born to truly single parent homes with the problems that arise from that situation?
    Basically, you’re suggesting married Black people try to hide the problem instead of all of us dealing with it.

    The only issue I have with the 72% statistic is that it doesn’t account for stable, common-law households. However, I’m guessing based on my biased personal sample that they are a minority amongst the 72%, so we still have a lot of work to do.

  • chloe

    These numbers have more to do with economic class/poverty rate than race. The implication that there’s a genetic or cultural basis is unfounded. The percentage of OOW births among women living at or below the poverty line has always been higher than the percentage of OOW births among women from upper income backgrounds. The only reason the rate of poverty related social breakdown and dysfunction is higher in our communities is because a larger % of blacks than whites and Asians live in poverty. You can find similar patterns across Europe, especially in Russia, where the white OOW birth rate is about the same as the US black OOW birth rate. There’s also more crime among Russia’s poor than there is among Russia’s upper class. It’s the US media that’s determined to frame this a black or race based phenomenon rather than the class issue that it is.

  • Hmmmmm

    @Viva Lola you have to much hate…black men come from who’s womb no matter bi-racial or not?…and who created these monster’s, it take’s two right?

  • Isis

    Totally agree!! I also agree with the person that said we’ve been drinking that independent juice so long our children our choking on it. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I feel for these children I really do.

  • Isis

    @ S Great post!! Folks always trying to clean up the truth and brush it under the rug. Very sad. The fact still remains that its way too many black children raised in single parent homes.

  • ty

    As much as people want to think that issues such as this facing our community are a result of external forces, the problems facing black America are now the product of our own lack of desire to change.

    We so often don’t want to acknowledge of love of popular black culture which embraces the “thug-ho” model of male-female relationships is killing us. We think being educated or speaking properly is “being white” and sneer at those who try to improve themselves with an education. We try to hush up blacks who speak out about our issues such as Bill Cosby. And we act like we are victims constantly and that every police officer is the “white man” oppressing us even if the black person who was arrested was committing a crime.

    I’m tired of the excuses. I am saddened by the idea that welfare is a way of life and perplexed by the lack of shame over the behavior exhibited by many of us (such as saying it’s tough to be a single mom when the woman has had her fifth child with no money and has the audacity to be upset when taxpayers are sick of paying for her irresponsible behavior).

    We have to love ourselves enough to use a condom, to stop embracing the victim mentality, to see a future beyond a Lil Wayne video and to honor the struggles of those that went before us who lived and died to give us a chance in this country. Is our current condition in part due to the difficult past blacks have endured? Yes. But…are we still responsible for our future. Yes.

  • Evan

    This was beautiful… i love you haha

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