Single Motherhood and the Importance of Two-Parent Families

A recent op-ed in the LA Times acknowledges what has been increasingly obvious the last few decades – single motherhood has been a catastrophe in the US:

The single-mother revolution has been an economic catastrophe for women. Poverty remains relatively rare among married couples with children; the U.S. census puts only 8.8% of them in that category, up from 6.7% since the start of the Great Recession. But more than 40% of single-mother families are poor, up from 37% before the downturn. In the bottom quintile of earnings, most households are single people, many of them elderly. But of the two-fifths of bottom-quintile households that are families, 83% are headed by single mothers. The Brookings Institution’s Isabel Sawhill calculates that virtually all the increase in child poverty in the United States since the 1970s would vanish if parents still married at 1970 rates.

Well, comes the response, maybe single mothers are hard up not because they lack husbands but because unskilled, low-earning women are likelier to become single mothers in the first place. The Urban Institute’s Robert Lerman tried to address that objection by studying low-income women who had entered “shotgun” unions — that is, getting married after getting pregnant — on the theory that they represented a population roughly similar to those who got pregnant but didn’t marry. The married women, he found, had a significantly higher standard of living than the unmarried ones. “Even among the mothers with the least qualifications and highest risks of poverty,” Lerman concluded, “marriage effects are consistently large and statistically significant.”

This social disaster is largely the result of our last social upheaval in the 60’s and 70’s when our society was convinced by the Left that the traditional family was unimportant to our society’s well being. In many ways this message is appealing – at least from the perspective of personal desire. If true it frees men to pursue sexual relationships with women without the responsibilities traditionally associated such pursuits, and it frees women from the dependence on the provision of a partner that having children has normally entailed.

And single motherhood not only impacts the well –being of mothers, but fathers as well:

Women and their children weren’t the only ones to suffer the economic consequences of the single-mother revolution; low-earning men have lost ground too. Knowing that women are now expected to be able to raise children on their own, unskilled men lose much of the incentive to work, especially at the sometimes disagreeable jobs that tend to be the ones they can get. Scholars consistently find that unmarried men work fewer hours, make less money and get fewer promotions than do married men.

The dynamics of marriage are more than just a legal arrangement, or one that confers government benefits – marriage is fundamental to the success of women, men, and children. This is perhaps one of the most completely demonstrated social claims thanks to our decades old social experiment in single motherhood. This is why the positive argument for traditional marriage isn’t merely a religious one, it is social, it is biological and it is economic. The best thing the government can do for our society is sanction and support traditional marriage – and as the data show, the worst thing it can do is pretend traditional marriage doesn’t matter.

5 Responses to Single Motherhood and the Importance of Two-Parent Families

  1. I’m not sure what you’re arguing for here: tighter divorce laws, welfare reform, child support law changes, a rejection of the choice of single motherhood?

    I’d agree with the latter for most circumstances (unless the mother has both financial means as well as extensive family support).

    Whatever it is, it not really an argument against gay marriage: gays are often affluent and are willing to take in the children abandoned by the heterosexuals who have neither the interest or resources in raising them. By all accounts, the children fare just as well in these homes as children of opposite-sex parents: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-01-21-parentgender21_ST_N.htm

    I know two gay men who have been together for over a decade. They’ve been foster parents to three African-American children (same mother but three different fathers). The mother thinks the world of the two men as they have been a source of love and stability for the children. Unfortunately, they now live in Florida where gay adoption is apparently illegal.

  2. Mike D says:

    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think a two-parent marriage is ideal. Certainly no one, aside from maybe Rush Limbaugh and Larry King, enters a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. Young-age marriages are by far the most likely to end in divorce (well… assuming we’re talking about first marriages…). But while no one wants or expects divorce, it’s often the only prudent option. I know a single mother with three kids who divorced her husband after he had several affairs and developed a meth habit. And they’re devout, church-going Christians. Would you have told her that it would have been better to stay with that shell of man? Do you think she just didn’t think marriage was all that important, or that she wanted to be a single mother raising three kids?

    Then you have the problem of young, out of wedlock births. If nothing else, this shows why the religious right’s attempts to restrict access to contraception is so incredibly idiotic. Young people need to be educated about the importance of contraceptive use, and they need easy access to affordable birth control. Education and access are hugely lacking in poor urban areas, where much of that single-mother poverty is concentrated. I know a couple of young (mid-20s) women with out-of-wedlock children (who are both politically conservative Christians, incidentally), but their affluent suburban families and friends provide a robust support network for them that simply doesn’t exist in a lot of inner cities.

    So I’m with you that these are important problems, but your attempts to play the blame game by demonizing liberalism rings shallow and ill-informed. People do want and value two-parent homes. But the reality ‘on the ground’, so to speak, isn’t that black and white.

    And yeah, seconding James above, you didn’t mention gay marriage here but this is actually fine argument for gay marriage. Research overwhelmingly shows that children raised in gay two-parent homes are just as well-adjusted and accomplished as children raised in straight two-parent homes, and gay populations do tend to be more suburban and affluent.

  3. Mike D says:

    Quick addendum:

    If you look at the states that have the highest percentages of births to unwed mothers, the majority of them are conservative, strongly Christian Southern states.

    Japan, which is strongly secular, has an unmarried birth rate of only 2%. Although there are a lot of abortions there too – a consequence of harsh taboos against single motherhood.

    The countries of Scandavia have a high percentage of out of wedlock children, but unmarried co-habitation is much more common and socially accepted. And, according to the above article, tax and insurance benefits aren’t contingent on being married as they are here in the states.

    This goes to show that the problem is not as simple as you’re making it out to be, like if everyone just loved Jesus more they’d value “traditional marriage” and it’d be like it was in the halcyon days of the nuclear family. But the Jesus-loving states are as bad or worse as the most secular, liberal states; and the rest of the world shows us that strong family can come independently of marriage, that marriage isn’t dependent on religion, and that taboos have consequences you may find less desirable than the taboos themselves.

    Okay that wasn’t really quick, but there ya go.

  4. jackhudson says:

    @James Bradshaw

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing for here: tighter divorce laws, welfare reform, child support law changes, a rejection of the choice of single motherhood?

    I’d agree with the latter for most circumstances (unless the mother has both financial means as well as extensive family support).

    Whatever it is, it not really an argument against gay marriage: gays are often affluent and are willing to take in the children abandoned by the heterosexuals who have neither the interest or resources in raising them. By all accounts, the children fare just as well in these homes as children of opposite-sex parents: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-01-21-parentgender21_ST_N.htm

    I know two gay men who have been together for over a decade. They’ve been foster parents to three African-American children (same mother but three different fathers). The mother thinks the world of the two men as they have been a source of love and stability for the children. Unfortunately, they now live in Florida where gay adoption is apparently illegal.

    Actually I thought what I was arguing for was fairly clear when I said this above:

    The best thing the government can do for our society is sanction and support traditional marriage – and as the data show, the worst thing it can do is pretend traditional marriage doesn’t matter.

    This is not an argument against gay marriage per se, but it certainly indicates there are positive reasons to support traditional family arrangements.

  5. jackhudson says:

    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think a two-parent marriage is ideal. Certainly no one, aside from maybe Rush Limbaugh and Larry King, enters a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. Young-age marriages are by far the most likely to end in divorce (well… assuming we’re talking about first marriages…). But while no one wants or expects divorce, it’s often the only prudent option. I know a single mother with three kids who divorced her husband after he had several affairs and developed a meth habit. And they’re devout, church-going Christians. Would you have told her that it would have been better to stay with that shell of man? Do you think she just didn’t think marriage was all that important, or that she wanted to be a single mother raising three kids?

    I find worst case scenarios to be one of the worst sorts of arguments for changing policy, or even one’s view on a subject. Having a cheating, meth taking spouse would be a good reason to leave a marriage; it is not a good argument for single motherhood. I think of it this way – I once broke a bottle and used the sharp end to cut the cracked end of a radiator hose because I was in the middle of nowhere and had nothing else available, and the car was overheating without it. That method became necessary out of desperation – however it would be a terrible method to recommend as an ordinary way to repair radiator hoses, anyone who said it was just as good would be foolish.

    Then you have the problem of young, out of wedlock births. If nothing else, this shows why the religious right’s attempts to restrict access to contraception is so incredibly idiotic. Young people need to be educated about the importance of contraceptive use, and they need easy access to affordable birth control. Education and access are hugely lacking in poor urban areas, where much of that single-mother poverty is concentrated. I know a couple of young (mid-20s) women with out-of-wedlock children (who are both politically conservative Christians, incidentally), but their affluent suburban families and friends provide a robust support network for them that simply doesn’t exist in a lot of inner cities.

    We have more contraceptive availability today (and education about the same) than ever before. I mean are you seriously suggesting that in 1950 when out of wedlock births were 5% that knowledge of and access to contraceptives was better than it is today when it is around 40%?

    So I’m with you that these are important problems, but your attempts to play the blame game by demonizing liberalism rings shallow and ill-informed. People do want and value two-parent homes. But the reality ‘on the ground’, so to speak, isn’t that black and white.

    As Pinker and others have suggested, what we are seeing now culturally with regard to views about sexual behaviors and the family occurred largely due to the sexual revolution in the 60’s and 70’s. If you think that fact demonizes liberals, then perhaps they need to be demonized.

    And yeah, seconding James above, you didn’t mention gay marriage here but this is actually fine argument for gay marriage. Research overwhelmingly shows that children raised in gay two-parent homes are just as well-adjusted and accomplished as children raised in straight two-parent homes, and gay populations do tend to be more suburban and affluent.

    It’s not a ‘fine argument’ for gay marriage – it has nothing to do with gay marriage. There is no suggestion that having more gay married couples is in any way, shape or form going to reduce the number of single mothers. It is a ridiculous assertion.

    If you look at the states that have the highest percentages of births to unwed mothers, the majority of them are conservative, strongly Christian Southern states.

    For someone who complains occasionally about data being merely correlational, you employ such data all the time. But if you take a look a few maps laying out what the data actually looks like regionally, you quickly see there isn’t even a correlation. The first is a map of Christian adherents as a percentage of state population:

    The second is a map births to unmarried mothers by state:


    There is some correlation, but not much. However there is a map which shows a much higher correlation, and that is a map of states with minority populations that are higher or lower than the mean:

    This would suggest that a large part of the issue is cultural and has nothing to do with religious belief per se.

    Japan, which is strongly secular, has an unmarried birth rate of only 2%. Although there are a lot of abortions there too – a consequence of harsh taboos against single motherhood.

    Japan is facing a net population loss right now because they simply don’t have all that many children at all. The marriage rate in Japan is in fact very low compared to the US. And in other secular countries (Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland) the out of wedlock birth rate is significantly higher than the US. So when one looks beyond the list of number you gave, one gets a picture much different than the one you attempted to paint.

    The countries of Scandavia have a high percentage of out of wedlock children, but unmarried co-habitation is much more common and socially accepted. And, according to the above article, tax and insurance benefits aren’t contingent on being married as they are here in the states.

    Even if Europe can maintain this kind of state run parent support given Europe’s debt woes, aging population and declining birthrates, this certainly doesn’t demonstrate that secularism is particularly supportive of traditional families.

    This goes to show that the problem is not as simple as you’re making it out to be, like if everyone just loved Jesus more they’d value “traditional marriage” and it’d be like it was in the halcyon days of the nuclear family. But the Jesus-loving states are as bad or worse as the most secular, liberal states; and the rest of the world shows us that strong family can come independently of marriage, that marriage isn’t dependent on religion, and that taboos have consequences you may find less desirable than the taboos themselves.

    I never said anything of the sort, and I have shown your stats to be extremely faulty in this regard. Responding to arguments I didn’t make, and then failing to prove your own pretty much evaporate whatever point you were trying to make.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers

%d bloggers like this: