The Sun Journal recently reported on the increasing number of unwed mothers in Maine. Forty percent of the children born here are now born to single mothers.
For women under 30, the youngest group, 51 percent of babies are now born to unmarried mothers, which signals the trend will continue.
But on this Father's Day, it is worth stating that more fairly: More and more babies are born to unwed fathers. Over the past decade, births to unwed fathers in Maine were up by 10 percent.
We talk almost exclusively about unmarried mothers only because they usually end up caring for the children of men who are missing or are only intermittently available to help with child-rearing.
But to better understand the massive social shift that has occurred here and across the U.S., we need to look at a longer timeline.
In 1930 about 4 percent of births in Maine were to unmarried couples.
That was likely the result of several factors, including social pressure, religious conviction and the economic reality that few women had the means to raise a child alone.
That 4 percent rate continued right through the 1960s. But the statistics show a sharp shift occurred in the mid-1960s — an increase in births to unmarried couples in Maine.
The steady 4 percent increased over the decades to 40 percent today, a 10-fold increase.
To those with a conservative outlook, the reasons might seem clear.
First, President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty programs began in 1964, marking the beginning of the massive social-welfare support programs that many conservatives feel now subsidize unwed parenthood.
Second, the so-called sexual revolution gradually freed people of former taboos and normalized, even glamorized, the raising of children by unmarried women.
To liberals, the picture might look different: Globalization and the decline of unions have eroded the traditional nuclear family, middle-class lifestyle and marriage.
Meanwhile, many feel the family structure is simply changing, and perhaps for the better. More highly educated women with more earning capacity are now fully capable of successfully raising children without a man.
There are two problems with that analysis: The trend in single-parent households has increased in good and bad economic times, through booms and busts, even in the 1970s when manufacturing and unions were much stronger.
What's more, Census figures show that highly educated, highly compensated women are far more likely to be married when they give birth and to stay married, doing so at rates similar to the rates of the 1960s.
Meanwhile, the women least capable of financially supporting children — younger, less-educated, low-earning women — have become far more likely to be raising children without partners.
Before we go further, it is necessary to understand two things.
First, we are talking about broad averages. There are many single mothers who raise successful, well-adjusted and high-achieving children.
Indeed, two of our recent presidents — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — were raised by strong, committed single mothers. It can be done.
Second, unmarried fathers can be wonderful dads. Some men become lifelong partners of their child's mother while others remain fully involved in a child's life even after a divorce or other separation. They are to be admired and commended, and the outcomes for their children show the difference.
It is, however, when we look at the odds and averages that problems become apparent. On average, the deck is simply stacked against the poorest people doing the difficult job of parenting without life partners.
There is, of course, simple poverty. Giving children life and learning opportunities takes money. Everything, including youth sports, travel, summer camps and tutors, requires discretionary income women living in poverty are less likely to have.
In Maine, single-parent households with children, which are overwhelmingly headed by women, are six times more likely to live in poverty than two-parent married couples.
There is not a shred of doubt that marriage and education are the keys to reducing poverty, yet when was the last time you heard a politician talk about the first half of that equation?
Why are so many families poor? Partly because so many of them are attempting to raise children on one income or no income at all.
A single-parent household headed by a high-school dropout in Maine has a 51 percent chance of living in poverty. A household headed by a married couple with the same education level has about an 11 percent poverty rate.
The same is true for all education levels.
A single-parent with a college degree has a 10 percent chance of living in poverty. Throw two college graduates together and the poverty rate becomes nearly negligible: 1.1 percent.
But the real question is what this trend means for children, and the answers are disturbing.
Experts agree that security and stability are necessary to raising happy, well-adjusted children.
Yet, children in single-parent households are much more likely to move during the course of a school year, plus they are often raised with a rotation of fathers, stepfathers and boyfriends.
Again, some of these may be wonderful people, but research shows that a child living with a stepparent is eight times more likely to be physically or sexually abused.
Some experts believe children living in such an unsteady environment are more likely to themselves have trouble forming stable relationships as adults.
Children growing up outside a married partnership are also at greater risk of nearly everything that can go wrong in a childhood. The list includes being:
* More likely to suffer from depression and emotional problems;
* More likely to suffer a physical illness or accident;
* More likely to engage in high-risk behavior such as drinking, smoking and using drugs;
* More likely to commit a criminal offense;
* More likely to be truant and drop out of school;
* More likely to leave home at a young age;
* And more likely to have children of their own outside marriage and at an earlier age.
In the 1980s, it seems, there was much more written about these consequences. It is easy to find research on the subject and on organizations being formed to combat the trend.
While there is research being done today and the occasional book written about the disintegration of the middle-class family, there seems to be much greater acceptance that the structure of the American family is simply changing, that the change is inevitable and benign.
A Bowdoin College scholar recently told the Sun Journal that we face two choices:
* "Either Maine ratchets up public support — health care, financial help — and sees whether more security in day-to-day lives means less stress on relationships. Maybe more people will stay together. Maybe more will marry.
* "Or, Maine yanks the help. Maybe more people do for themselves. Maybe more couples stay together the old-fashioned way."
More financial support for poor people in the current political and economic climate is clearly off the table. Plus, as such support has increased over the years, the rate of unwed fathers and mothers, and children living in poverty, have increased apace.
The second idea — suddenly yanking the help and hoping for the best — could be a disastrous gamble.
It is certainly worth closely examining whether our welfare and tax policies encourage unwed fathers and mothers and discourage marriage.
It was only in 2010 that Congress finally addressed the "marriage penalty," a proven tax penalty for joint income-tax filers.
Moreover, are there any clear-cut tax advantages for people who make a joint, long-term commitment to raising children together? Should there be?
Beyond that, only the tools of education, information and moral suasion remain.
While we seem determined to remove the social stigma from unwed parenthood, we should at least be willing to openly discuss the risks and problems often associated with single-parent households versus a committed partnership.
And, clearly, this involves both a moral and practical judgment that our society now seems reluctant to make. Bluntly, on average, not all family arrangements are equally suitable for raising children.
Most children are born to a man and a woman. That is not a simple incident. It carries an obligation: that those children will be raised by the people who brought them into the world, by a father and a mother.
Increasingly, that is not happening. That hurts us all, and children the most.