Fifty years ago, only about 8 percent of babies in the United States were born to single women. Today that figure is over 40 percent. Although sociologists point to many reasons for the disturbing trend, a new study just presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, indicates the huge increase of babies born out-of-wedlock may, at least in part, be due to the way in which mainstream media portrays the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
According to the study, celebrity lifestyles have had a huge impact on social norms and the makeup of the traditional American family.
Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, the study’s author and a sociologist at the University at Buffalo, analyzed nearly 400 cover stories from People magazine between the premier issue in 1974 and the present to learn when interest in celebrity pregnancies began and how the magazine changed the way it presented the family over time.
Grol-Prokopczyk found that in the earlier years, although unmarried celebrities usually did not apologize for getting pregnant, the family model still encouraged couples to marry by the time the baby was born.
In May 1976, Goldie Hawn was the first unmarried, pregnant celebrity to make the front cover of the magazine, but the photo caption made it clear Hawn planned to marry: “She’s laughing with a baby and a new hubby on the way.”
“There aren’t many non-marital fertility stories in the 1970s, but when they do appear there’s almost always a promise that the parent will marry by the time the baby is born,” Grol-Prokopczyk said in a statement. That still appeared to be the expectation when People magazine announced Melanie Griffith’s pregnancy in 1989 with a caption explaining she and Don Johnson were “thinking about an April wedding.”
But by the 1990s, social mores began to change. By the mid-2000s People magazine frequently showed celebrity couples who did not get married before the baby was born. According to Grol-Prokopczyk, these out-of-wedlock births were almost always depicted as happy, unproblematic events.
Critics might argue the study shows only correlation, not causation. Perhaps the media attention to celebrity lifestyles does not influence, but merely reflects, the social norms of the day.
But Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, believes there is no question that celebrities shape culture. For example, advertisers pay big money to show a certain celebrity using a particular brand of toothpaste in order to increase sales. Advertisers understand that Hollywood, New York, and the elite entertainment culture set the trend for what Americans think and do. If that wasn’t true, marketing companies would be wasting billions of dollars. When the media depicts celebrities as successful, beautiful, brilliant, interesting, and funny, we want to be like them. When the media portrays a single celebrity who has children as successful and happy, we think it should work out the same for us, Stanton said.
But the celebrity lifestyles portrayed by the media aren’t reality. Having children outside marriage is often the status divider in society today, Stanton told me. For the largest percent of the population, “these celebrities are really communicating an unrealistic and imaginary world by saying you can have babies with lots of different men and still drive nice cars and live in nice houses and have a great career,” Stanton said.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: November 7, 2016