Does Immigration Contribute to Delayed Family Formation?

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on March 21, 2013

"'Progressives stress the economics, conservatives stress the culture', said [University of Virginia researcher Bradley] Wilcox. 'We say both matter. They both are undercutting the viability of marriage for young adults today.'"

A sobering study titled "Knot Yet" finds that wage decline and a tough jobs outlook combine with growing acceptance of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births to postpone marriage among younger Americans.

Today, American women delay getting married until they're 27 (the median age) and men until 29. That means the old "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Johnny with a baby carriage" process starts way later than it historically did. But, as will be seen, immigration is not only not the solution, immigration contributes to the problem.

Education level factors into this harmful anti-family-formation trend. Women with a college education have their first child two years after tying the knot. But high school-only educated women have their first child two years before marrying.

Attitudes toward marriage have weakened, along with earnings growth stagnating. These add up to a vicious circle for young Americans, and it threatens to spiral society toward diminished national success, economic and social. According to the Washington Post:

The decline in real wages for men lacking college degrees has eroded the economic foundations of marriage. And young adults, many of them children of divorce themselves, are inclined to view marriage less as a cornerstone to their future lives than a capstone to put in place after they have built a foundation, the study said.

The growing trend of delayed family formation means college-educated young adults struggle to land career-track jobs and get started on the ladder of success. Meanwhile, "women with only high school degrees or a year or two of college are more likely to have their first child while cohabiting with a man who struggles to find a stable job that pays enough to support a family, the study said."

Some 58 percent of first births are now out of wedlock for women with only a high school education. This sets up a life of consequences — and not good ones: single parenthood, limited employment options, welfare dependency, low household income levels, unstable home environments in which children are reared, poor study habits, lower educational achievement by the children, greater poverty, and a plethora of other unhealthy, unwealthy, unwise outcomes.

Not surprisingly, the era of mass immigration coincides with this decline in the American family. Social policy expert Robert W. Patterson has similarly accounted the cost:

The demography of the past 30 years tells a different story. Marriage rates have reached new lows (only 57 percent of men and 54 percent of women were currently married as of 2007), while alternative living arrangements have proliferated. Households without the benefits of marriage or children nearly tripled, from 12 million in 1970 to 35 million in 2002. The percentage of births to unwed mothers, another indicator of diminishing returns, hit a record 40 percent in 2007 (compared to less than 5 percent throughout most of the 1950s).

The 1965 Immigration Act started the spike in immigration levels, along with the lack of connection between a green card and prospective immigrant skills, talents, abilities, and education. This began the chain migration so destructive to America today. The 1990 Immigration Act expanded these recent chain migration and high-volume immigration policies further (and prompted further illegal immigration). Thus, immigration has flooded the United States with poorer people of lower ability since around 1970.

Four-plus decades later, we have more than enough data to prove that immigration now disserves the national interest:

  • Low-human-capital immigrants directly compete for (and deprive the native-born of) jobs that don't require a college degree.

  • These immigrants flood these labor markets and depress wages.

  • Immigrants and their children make up a quarter of the U.S. population living in poverty.

  • Immigrants disproportionately use welfare, lack health coverage, live in overcrowd housing, and consume public resources like schools and health care.

  • Immigrants lag the native-borns' socioeconomic status for decades after arrival.

  • Immigrants today tend to doom their offspring to the underclass, not only through the lives they model, but also by overwhelmingly speaking their native language instead of English at home.

And far from being wholesome traditionalists, the last, best hope of reviving "strong family values", today's immigrants embody the same social behaviors that so concerned Daniel Patrick Moynihan about minority populations years ago. Today's immigrants, including Hispanics, have high illegitimacy rates and comparatively lower intact households rearing children.

Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute has exposed the realities of these destructive lifestyles: "Social workers report that the impregnators of younger Hispanic women are with some regularity their uncles, not necessarily seen as a bad thing by the mother's family. Alternatively, the father may be the boyfriend of the girl's mother, who then continues to stay with the grandmother."

America's long-term prospects for success in every measure suffer from the depression in family formation. And high immigration harms family formation. This is the demographic destiny U.S. policymakers should be most concerned about and intent on reversing.

"The need for a better bargain for the middle class is the real lesson of 2012", Patterson has observed. "That more important deal would focus on delivering tangibles to improve the lives of an anxious electorate, like private-sector jobs at high wages and good benefits for families."

The best hope for reversing the long-term economic and social decline lies in the renewal of healthy American family formation. For intact families, with a mother and father married to each other and children born in wedlock, amount to the real economic engine that drives American success.

Want evidence? What did the era of low immigration after World War II produce?

[T]he Fabulous Fifties had a lot to do with demographics. Not only did the marriage rate rise and the divorce rate decline, but the average age of first marriage fell to historic lows: 22 for men and 20 for women. Nearly 95 percent of all adults coming of age during the 1950s tied the knot. Consequently, the number of married-couple households grew by 30 percent between 1950 and 1970, and the fertility rate nearly doubled. American families were vibrant and strong, which helped hold the welfare state in check.

To conclude, reducing legal immigration to traditional levels, eliminating chain migration visas, and placing a strong preference on prospective immigrants with exceptional skills, high educational attainment, English fluency, a healthy bank account balance, and intent to make a real break from their native land would do much to promote family formation among young Americans. The rational immigration inflow would then be "all in" with America, and immigration would not be as detrimental to young Americans' economic and social prospects as it is today.

That's where the future lies: Enable American young adults to land a good job, make a living on which they can support a family, and tie the knot young, then have children. The economic enterprise known as the intact nuclear family will do more to advance America's economic and societal strength than will propping up an unsustainable welfare state and importing another million of its clientele each year.