A new ad campaign in the Phoenix, Arizona area, running under the headline "MarriageB4Carriage," is focused on reducing the high out-of-wedlock birth rate in that city and eventually in the nation as a whole.
Family Bridges, a Chicago-based nonprofit that focuses on supporting and encouraging healthy families through education, training, and ad campaigns, is behind MarriageB4Carriage. The campaign will focus on encouraging young parents to wait until they have at least a high-school degree and are married to have kids, a chain of events often called the "success sequence" for its efficacy at keeping families out of poverty.
"The MarriageB4Carriage campaign is all about ensuring that children growing up in the Phoenix area are given the best chance possible to have a good childhood and a successful future," said Alicia La Hoz, the president of Family Bridges.
Increasing out-of-wedlock birth rates are a problem for the nation as a whole: A new report from the Social Capital Project noted that the national rate of out-of-wedlock births is at 40 percent of mothers, including two-thirds of first births to women under the age of 30.
The situation is similarly grim in Arizona. According to the Arizona Department of Health, the proportion of unmarried mothers in the state was at or around 45 percent from 2008 up to at least 2015. According to a Health Status Report from 2013 (the most recently available year), 43.4 percent of mothers in Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located) self-reported as being single, compared to 55.5 percent married.
The adverse consequences of out-of-wedlock parenthood are also well-documented. Children of single mothers are five times more likely to experience poverty compared with married-parent households. Children and unwed mothers are more likely to be the subject of domestic violence, while 71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless.
Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, thinks there's some hope for the boom in out-of-wedlock births to reverse itself.
"What's interesting is that our national disconnect between marriage and parenthood has slowed dramatically since the Great Recession. In fact, in 2017 and 2018, I expect that the share of babies born in marriage will increase," Wilcox said.
He also noted the novelty of MarriageB4Carriage as an approach to bolstering in-wedlock birth rates.
"The new PSA campaign in Phoenix is the first example of a local campaign designed to strengthen the ties between marriage and parenthood," he said.
Family Bridges explained that MarriageB4Carriage will consist of "aggressive" advertising, to the tune of $200,000. Most of that will go toward social media and digital advertising, focusing on Phoenicians in the 17-28 age range. Digital ads taglines include phrases like "Take Baby Steps," "Start Him Off on the Right Foot," and "Help Her Reach Great Heights."
The initiative will also spend some $120,000 on "grassroots" education in both traditional classrooms and alternative settings, including churches.
"To avoid the increases in multi-generational poverty, lower levels of educational attainment and behavioral issues in children that have been clearly associated with single parenthood, we are educating the public about the benefits that a strong family structure that includes both parents can have on all parties involved," La Hoz said.