It wasn't a surprise to learn that famous-for-being-famous Kim Kardashian was pregnant by boyfriend of five months Kanye West. Celebs regularly put the baby carriage before marriage, and she is just the latest.
And it wasn't surprising that her family tweeted — because that's how we communicate these days — their joy. We long ago stopped stigmatizing unwed mothers, even ones like Ms. Kardashian who is still tangled in divorce proceedings after her very brief marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries and may still be married to him when her baby is born this summer.
What was surprising was the reaction of younger brother Rob, who said at a Las Vegas event New Year's Eve, "I am so proud of my sisters, but I'll be married before I have a baby."
Another of his sisters, Kourtney, has two children but is not married to their father, Scott Disick, and that relationship has been rocky. And Mr. Kardashian recently broke with his girlfriend, singer Rita Ora, after he tweeted that she cheated on him with 20 men. So he may not be in love with love right now.
But his comments about marriage first and babies later are rare enough to be worth noting, especially since the institution of marriage is in trouble in this country: The majority of births for women under 30 now occur outside marriage, and that is especially true among women without a college degree.
"We have adopted a position of non-judgmentalism, a posture of celebrating motherhood no matter how it happens," said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
"Hollywood is both a cause and a consequence of larger changes in our understanding of how marriage and child-bearing do and do not fit together."
What research has shown, Mr. Wilcox said, is that women who are not college educated are much more likely to put babies before marriage, and it is often because many of the men in their communities are having difficulty finding jobs and staying out of trouble. There are few good husband prospects for a working-class woman — and even fewer for a poor woman.
But in more affluent, more educated communities, adults know — and make this clear to their children — that the path to success includes education, work, marriage and kids. In that order.
"This is the success sequence they know and they are sure their kids are going to follow," he said, noting that those closest to them would disapprove of any other path.
In addition to the economic divide in our view of marriage and child-bearing, there has been a cultural shift as well, and Hollywood has played its part in this. "Kim Kardashian is only 'Exhibit Z,'" Mr. Wilcox said.
"She can afford to do this," he said. "The sad reality is that most women can't afford it, and their kids suffer."
Social scientists have ascribed a long list of ills for children born outside a stable marriage: They are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to fail in school, less likely to go to college and achieve status jobs, more likely to eventually divorce or become unwed parents. They are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and engage in crime, have higher rates of injury or illness, and they are at greater risk of child abuse.
There is something about marriage that is predictive of other behaviors that have good outcomes for both the parents and the children.
Marriage is also a way to keep the father in the picture, both as a breadwinner and a source of love, affection and support. Sadly, Mr. Wilcox said, "most kids born to cohabiting parents see their parents split by the time they turn 5."
"Lots of children are raised successfully by single mothers. My mother was a single mother," said Mr. Wilcox — but that's no reason to make it the norm.
This is the part where I am supposed to say that Kim and Kanye may be the exception — marrying as soon as she is free to do so and growing old together, with a bunch of well-adjusted kids who go to college, get good jobs, marry and have children of their own, in that order, because they believe it works.
But I don't see that happening.
Susan Reimer's columns appear Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter.com @SusanReimer Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts