The Corner

Bulgaria & Marriage…

Blogger Lucia Liljegren looks to Eastern Europe–especially Bulgaria–for countries where out-of-wedlock births are rising as swiftly as they are in Holland. Supposedly, this proves that gay marriage has nothing to do with marital decline in The Netherlands. Yet as I showed in “Dutch Debate,” you cannot compare the causes of out-of-wedlock birth in Holland with a place like Bulgaria. In Bulgaria, out-of-wedlock births occur overwhelmingly among poor, single, teens–with especially high rates among the Roma (Gypsies). And most of the increase in Bulgarian out-of-wedlock births since 1989 has taken place among these poor single mothers. By contrast, single teen moms are a rare in The Netherlands. Holland’s out-of-wedlock birthrate is being pushed up by Scandinavian-style, middle class, parental cohabitation. That is what gay marriage is most closely associated with.

On contraception, Liljegren thinks she’s contradicted me by pointing to statistics that show high rates of contraception among married Bulgarian women. Yet this sidesteps the question–which is skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrates among unmarried Bulgarian women. These young, unmarried Bulgarian women–girls, really–have relatively little knowledge of contraception, and find contraception difficult to afford, even when they want it. Of course, contraception is by no means the only way to control out-of-wedlock births. Under communism, contraception was, if anything, discouraged. Yet out-of-wedlock births remained low because every communist government offered a panoply of incentives designed to encourage early marriage and child-bearing. These included everything from access to high quality housing for young married couples, to an actual “bachelor’s tax” levied on single people in their mid-twenties. You can’t compare the rapid collapse of this vast system of marital incentives–and the severe and ongoing economic dislocation in post-communist Europe–with minor economic blips in vastly more prosperous Holland. The fact that Liljegren has to reach as far as Bulgaria to find a case that is (supposedly) comparable to a prosperous and socially liberal Western European country like The Netherlands bespeaks the weakness of her argument. For a truer picture of Bulgarian unwed motherhood, go here (esp. P.17), and here. The contrast with Holland (and with Liljegren’s claims) is striking. What really calls for explanation is why a country like Holland–with so much contraception and so little single teen mothering–should have such a rapidly rising out-of-wedlock birthrate.

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