All Across Latin America, Unwed Mothers Are Now The Norm : Parallels From Argentina to Mexico, well over half of all births are to unwed mothers. The change had occurred rapidly in the past generation, and it's taking place at all economic levels.

All Across Latin America, Unwed Mothers Are Now The Norm

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I'm Steve Inskeep, with news of a social change across South America. Fewer people are getting married, but people are still having children. Now the region has the world's highest percentage of children born out of wedlock, which is leading to a rise in new types of families. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explains from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Maria Mercedes Vittar is a senior human resources manager. She's a tall, willowy mother of two. When we meet, she has 7-month-old Lupita in her arms. She's the product of a short-term relationship Maria had with a co-worker. Her other daughter, 3-year-old Azul, is spending the day with her father, Maria's former boyfriend with whom she had a five-year relationship. So two children, two different fathers, Maria currently unattached and perfectly fine about it.

MARIA MERCEDES VITTAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I really like Lupita's dad," she tells me, "but we weren't in love. Lupita was a surprise. It never even occurred to me to have a formal relationship. He lives in his house and then I live in mine," she says. And, she adds emphatically, it was her choice.

VITTAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Things have really changed here," she says. "Today, we women are a lot freer. We decide what we like and what we don't like. We work. We're independent. And that gives us a lot of strength. We can do it alone if we have to," she says. Maria says both fathers are financially and personally involved with their respective kids.

VITTAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I come from a traditional family," she says. "My parents are still married. I didn't expect this life."

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the apartment where I meet Maria are two of her close friends. They all vacation together, and they hang out all the time. Maria explains they're part of her extended family, too. Paola Fiorita, a photographer, co-habits with the father of Lucio, age 3 - so also not married.

PAOLA FIORITA: (Speaking Spanish).

LUCIO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paola says for her having a kid was far more important than the ritual of getting married, which she sees as just paperwork. She says there are no perfect families anymore.

FIORITA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "I think you create the family for your child. I don't think my son's family is just us and his grandparents. But we are all aunts and cousins even if we're not biologically related," she says. This new societal upheaval where the traditional definition of a family has given way to new interpretations in Latin America has happened in less than a generation in Argentina. And it's happening at all socioeconomic levels. Educated, middle-class women are now the growing group of those choosing to have kids alone or in an informal union. Maria Esther de Palma is the president of the Argentine Society for Family Therapy. We meet at a coffee shop.

MARIA ESTHER DE PALMA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Things have changed so radically that now," she says, "there's a huge diversity that is deemed acceptable and it's valued. You don't have to get married like before to have a place in society," she says. Part of the explanation for those shifts were the onerous marriage laws here. Until 2012 in Argentina, you needed to wait a lengthy period for a divorce and give cause. And there were stiff financial penalties for breaking up. Instead of keeping people together, though, it made the younger generation not want to get married at all. Barbara Schmidt is also a psychologist who's studied the issue.

BARBARA SCHMIDT: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The model for the younger generation is to place importance on the content of the relationship and not the form it takes," she says, which isn't to say it's easy to be a single mother or an unmarried one. Back at the apartment, Maria Mercedes Vittar says though that's not the point. She says there are a lot less value judgments about the choices she and other women have made in Argentina.

VITTAR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "We are the families of the future," she says, or actually, she says reconsidering, the families of today. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires.

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