WHEN CAREER AND PARENTHOOD ARE NOT A CHOICE.

One other point worth making on the marriage debate. In general, this conversation is conducted at a fairly elite level. When we talk about young couples choosing between furthering their education and careers and getting married and having children, we're generally talking about the minority of Americans who go to college or even travel beyond. But the tension between career and children is similarly sharp for lower-income folks. And it's often not a choice.

According to data collected by the National Survey on Family Growth, 30 percent of women have had an unplanned or mistimed birth. That number jumps to 51 percent for women beneath the poverty line. And among women with no high school diploma or GED, it's 61 percent. Once these women have a child, it's no longer a choice between the path that focuses on career and educational advancement and the path that focuses on family. Insofar as those roads branch off from each other, the choice is made. And long-term earning prospects suffer.

That, of course, is the more pressing reason to make parenthood less antagonistic towards career advancement. Those women don't have the luxury of "choosing" career any longer. Insofar as children crowd out career, career simply gets crowded out, and these mothers then have lower long-term earning prospects and the children, not incidentally, have lower standards of living. Reducing that crowd-out effect is, in other words, not just a policy for people choosing between parenthood and law school. It's also -- even mainly -- a policy for those who didn't realize they were making a choice, or didn't mean to make a choice, but are at risk of suffering the consequences of it anyway.

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