Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What causes women to become single mothers, and how are children affected?

alvare_h

Here is an article on single mothermood. It is the first in a series by law professor Helen Alvaré.

First, she writes about the number of out-of-wedlock births, and the effects of single motherhood on children:

The recent news of the nearly 40% out of wedlock birth rate in the United States should pretty much rock our world as citizens and as Catholics. According to the Centers for Disease Control report, this means 1.7 million children were born to unmarried mothers in 2007, a figure 250% greater than the number reported in 1980. The implications for our society loom large. According to empirical data published over the last several decades in leading sociological journals, these children, on average, will suffer significant educational and emotional disadvantages compared to children reared by their married parents. They will be less able to shoulder the burdens that “next generations” traditionally assume for the benefit of their families, communities and their country. They are likely to repeat their parents’ behaviors. The boys are more likely to engage in criminal behavior and the girls to have nonmarital children.

And then she explains what causes women to do engage in this behavior:

First, the researchers concluded that the majority of children born to lone mothers could not correctly be deemed “unplanned.” Rather, many were planned or actively sought. And the majority were somewhere in the middle between planned and unplanned. In other words, many of these very young couples (it was not uncommon for the mothers to be 14 or 15 years old) explicitly or implicitly wanted a baby in their lives. Their reasons by and large would be familiar to anyone who has ever hoped for a child. They wanted someone who was an extension of their beloved, a piece of him or her.  They wanted to love another person deeply.

[...]What is different about very poor mothers’ desires for children seems to be related to their relationally, financially and educationally impoverished circumstances.  Relationally, the authors described these young mothers as existing in an environment without close, trusted ties.  In particular, the men in their lives were considered to be highly untrustworthy and worse.  Infidelity seemed almost a universal problem among the fathers. Drug and alcohol problems, criminal behavior, and domestic violence were extremely common.  Motherhood provided a chance for these women to “establish the primordial bonds of love and connection.”

So, these women are looking to children as a way to establish lasting relationships. They want to have children, and they don’t believe that they are hurting the child by having the child without a father.

You can read the rest here.

I think this is interesting because what it means is that young women are viewing children as means to their own happiness, regardless of the effects that single-motherhood, with all that it implies, has on the child. It strikes me as incredibly selfish. Just like when children demand pets and promise they will take care of them, but then the adults end up taking care of the pets because the children aren’t mature enough.

Maybe those antiquated moralistic prohibitions on pre-marital sex were there for a reason? Maybe morality should not have been shoved aside by the secular left so hastily?

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22 Responses

  1. whittmadden says:

    Taking this from a Christian point of view,I think that we all – both men and women especially in today’s society are putting our happiness in everything and every one, except the One who really matters. Women tend to put their happiness in their children moreso than men do. Wow, talk about putting pressure on your child! Men tend to find their happiness in their stuff, or their hobbies. We all have a God-shaped hole that we try to fit other stuff in to make ourselves happy, but in the end there is only One that can fill that hole.

    • I think a lot of the problems we are seeing with children today are caused by the absence of fathers in the home. Mothers tend to raise children more permissively. And if you think your child’s job is to make you happy, then you are more inclined to spoil them with whatever they want in order to make them stop crying – so you can be happy. It is the man in the house who is more concerned with forming character through discipline and responsibility. Both parents are needed.

      • Shalini says:

        “It is the man in the house who is more concerned with forming character through discipline and responsibility.”

        Not necessarily and not always. In my home, it was my mom who disciplined us despite the fact she knew her kids would hate her for that because my dad flatly refused to discipline us and was bent on pampering us because he did not want us to think he was bad. I’d say any good parent, irrespective of their gender, would be concerned forming character through discipline and responsibility. Though I do love and respect my dad, because I knew he has been a good parent in his own ways, my dad’s calculations went wrong. I mean, I have deeper respect and love for my mom who still disciplines me than I have for my dad, simply because if I am anything appreciable as an adult that’s ’cause of my mom’s disciplining.

        • I’m generalizing, because I wrote that from home, (I went home for lunch). The post-it note about not generalizing that you made me write to myself is on my work computer. Maybe I need two notes! Anyway, you’re right of course.

        • One other thing. In Biblical Christianity, the man is specifically charged with teaching the children about God, and moral values and duties.

          • Shalini says:

            That’s true, of course! Tell be about it! My mom keeps reminding my dad that’s his job biblically speaking, but he keeps shoving it back to her! :) But that doesn’t justify you saying that ‘men’ are more concerned about that. But since you’ve rightfully accepted your mistake, I will not hold that against you! :)

  2. osolomama says:

    I’m a single mother to a child adopted from China. It’s unfortunate that the myths about single-parenthood persist in the public square. This post isn’t helping much. Status per se–single or married–is not the deciding factor because successful single-parent families, including families by adoption, have been well-documented in the literature. What these families have in common are parents who have the maturity, education, income, and emotional network (support from family and friends) to make a stable family home and life for their child. This might even include avoiding marriage while the child is maturing because marriage introduced into a successful single-parent home can be a complication and stressor. Certainly, my daughter has expressed zero interest in me getting married.

    You might be interested in this article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/magazine/01Moms-t.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1

    I don’t think it helps to ruminate on the reasons why people become single parents when they are not one group of people and you are really only talking about people plagued with other problems.

    • You think that dozens of peer-reviewed research papers showing negative outcomes for fatherless children of both sexes are “myths”? Is that right?

      You can click through to this link for three four dozen independent research studies showing the effects of raising children without fathers.

      Here are just a few of the “unfortunate myths” from peer-reviewed research papers.

      Almost 75% of American children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they turn 11 years old. Only 20% of children in two-parent families will do the same. Source: National Commission on Children. Just the Facts: A Summary of Recent information on America’s Children and their Families. Washington, DC, 1993. Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census.Statistical Abstract of the United States 1994. Washington, DC: GPO 1994.

      70% of juveniles in state reform institutions grew up in single- or no-parent situations. Source: Alan Beck et al., Survey of Youth in Custody, 1987, US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1988.

      Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health, Washington, DC, 1993.

      Children in single-parent families are two to three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have emotional and behavioral problems. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Health Statistics.”National Health Interview Survey.” Hyattsville, MD, 1988.

      Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Health Statistics. Survey on Child Health. Washington, DC; GPO, 1993.

      I chose the US Government studies, especially from the Clinton era, but there are several dozen peer-reviewed reserch publications cited as well. My personal opinion is that elective single motherhood is child abuse. Perhaps we need to do a better job of informing women about the facts so that they can make decisions based on evidence.

  3. osolomama says:

    Did I say that? What most of those papers are measuring is the effect of other factors, largely poverty, but also other factors that impede one’s ability to parent well and provide family stability. Some of those papers don’t even distinguish between always-single and single-parent families created through divorce, who have additional problems to bear. Think about family stability for a few minutes (it’s the subject of a recent study: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/162479.php) and consider how lack of stability would affect a child’s behavioural-emotional development and academic performance. Makes sense, no?

    I will not go round and round with you on this issue and show you my papers while you show me yours because I have already done that with other people before. You are free to believe what you do.

    • Thanks for your comment. You write:
      “What most of those papers are measuring is the effect of other factors, largely poverty, but also other factors that impede one’s ability to parent well and provide family stability. Some of those papers don’t even distinguish between always-single and single-parent families created through divorce, who have additional problems to bear.”

      I will try to respond. Here are a few of the non-government peer-reviewed papers showing the disastrous affects of elective fatherless homes on children. Pay attention to the ones in bold as they directly refute your assertion about poverty being the cause of these problems. Two-parent poor families do not have these behavioral problems, while single-mother affluent families do have these behavioral problems.


      Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes. Source: “One-Parent Families and Their Children;” Charles F. Kettering Foundation (1990).

      Children reared by a divorced or never-married mother are less cooperative and score lower on tests of intelligence than children reared in intact families. Statistical analysis of the behavior and intelligence of these children revealed “significant detrimental effects” of living in a female-headed household. Growing up in a female-headed household remained a statistical predictor of behavior problems even after adjusting for differences in family income. Source: Greg L. Duncan, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Pamela Kato Klebanov, “Economic Deprivation and Early Childhood Development,” Child Development 65 (1994).

      A 1988 Department of Health and Human Services study found that at every income level except the very highest (over $50,000 a year), children living with never-married mothers were more likely than their counterparts in two-parent families to have been expelled or suspended from school, to display emotional problems, and to engage in antisocial behavior. Source: James Q. Wilson, “In Loco Parentis: Helping Children When Families Fail Them,” The Brookings Review, Fall 1993.

      After taking into account race, socio-economic status, sex, age and ability, high school students from single-parent households were 1.7 times more likely to drop out than were their corresponding counterparts living with both biological parents. Source: Ralph McNeal, Sociology of Education 88. 1995.

      After taking into account race, socioeconomic status, sex, age, and ability, high school students from single-parent households were 1.7 times more likely to drop out than were their corresponding counterparts living with both biological parents. Source: McNeal, Ralph B. Jr.”Extracurricular Activities and High School Dropouts.” Sociology of Education 68(1995): 62-81.

      Almost 75% of American children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they turn 11 years old. Only 20% of children in two-parent families will do the same. Source: National Commission on Children. Just the Facts: A Summary of Recent information on America’s Children and their Families. Washington, DC, 1993. Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census.Statistical Abstract of the United States 1994. Washington, DC: GPO 1994.

      72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way. Source: D. Cornell (et al.), Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 5. 1987. And N. Davidson, “Life Without Father,” Policy Review. 1990.

      The likelihood that a young male will engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father and triples if he lives in a neighborhood with a high concentration of single-parent families. Source: A. Anne Hill, June O’Neill, “Underclass Behaviors in the United States,” CUNY, Baruch College. 1993.

      In studies involving over 25,000 children using nationally representative data sets, children who lived with only one parent had lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poor attendance records, and higher drop out rates than students who lived with both parents. Source: McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur. Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

      In 1988, a study of preschool children admitted to New Orleans hospitals as psychiatric patients over a 34-month period found that nearly 80% came from fatherless homes. Source: Jack Block, et al. “Parental Functioning and the Home Environment in Families of Divorce,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27 (1988).

      Children living with a never-married mother are more likely to have been treated for emotional problems. Source: L. Remez, “Children Who Don’t Live with Both Parents Face Behavioral Problems,” Family Planning Perspectives (January/February 1992).

      Surely these are not all “unfortunate myths”? Some of them must be true, right?

      Obviously, single mothers can do a good job if it is thrust upon them, especially as the result of being widowed, for example, which is not nearly as bad for children. But elective single motherhood is not a good idea to celebrate or subsidize with taxpayer money.

      • osolomama says:

        A correlation in certain populations is not a cause.

        • daniele says:

          Um, excuse me, but I am sorry to let you know that you are wrong. Even though you might think you are doing good for your child and providing a steady environment, you aren’t. I think that the person who wrote this article is correct.

      • Drew says:

        Yeah, maybe the increased mental illness and juvenile delinquency of the children caused their moms to become single parents. Oh wait, that wouldn’t make any sense.

      • osolomama says:

        Are the summaries of the research yours? For example, before citing this title–“One-Parent Families and Their Children;” Charles F. Kettering Foundation (1990)–you say:

        “Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes.”

        Is that your summary or the article abstract, and could you direct us to sources online where we could access the articles?

        • Great question. I linked the the page where the studies were cited, and my understanding is that those extracts are quotations from the paper or from the abstract.

          • osolomama says:

            Admittedly, looking at just one area (school achievement) but here is a relevant observation on the subject of economic resources:

            “Fewer monetary and nonmonetary resources are possible reasons why students from single-parent homes tend to have lower achievement compared with students from two-parent families. Lending support to these explanations is the finding that, when monetary and nonmonetary resources are statistically controlled, the effect of single parenthood is reduced and even disappears in some studies (Cooksey, 1997; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994).”

            I urge you to read the whole article which is available at

            http://www.eui.eu/Personal/Dronkers/articles/Journalmarriagefamily2003.pdf

            The interesting thing is not that some single-parent families are disadvantaged; they are and it would foolish to proclaim otherwise. What is interesting is that the disadvantage diminishes or disappears in certain situations. What are those situations? That is where the research seems to be going and why we need to get beyond the single or married label.

            The problem with your general take on things (not you personally but the way this argument runs) is that you pin the whole thing on family structure. What more and more studies are saying is that structure (married, single) is a big, clumsy factor that doesn’t account for many influential dynamics of family life. Those dynamics are in turn affected by the society in which the family lives. For example, something this study suggests is that the more generous the social policies of a given country, the more enabled single parents are to invest in their kids. It is also true that groups of people who have been historically discriminated against are over-represented in the single-parent population. The authors wrote that they could not rule out “the possibility that race and ethnicity explains much of the single- and two-parent achievement gap . . . “ It should be made clear this was not a race argument but a discrimination argument.

            The whole subject area seems to me more more wide-open than you are willing to admit. . .more like toppling dominoes, chain reactions . . . I realize there are statements in the current study that you will fasten upon, so you just go and do that. But I think if you read the whole thing with an open mind, you will see that this issue is far from settled and that many, many factors contribute to successful families that raising adjusted, successful kids.

            By the way, I believe this study also arrives at a different answer: re: economic resources and single parents generally.

            http://www.popline.org/docs/1675/282568.html

          • “For example, something this study suggests is that the more generous the social policies of a given country, the more enabled single parents are to invest in their kids.”

            Thanks for your comment. My concern about your comment is that it seems to suggest that government should be subsidizing single mothers using taxpayer money in order to pay for the social costs of raising children without fathers, including the costs of pre-marital sex and criminal behavior. But the problem is that this money comes from taxpaying individuals including intact families who are already hard-pressed to make ends meet.

            I apologize for being mean, but I had my heart set on love and marriage and I really think that all of these social costs make it impossible for for me to do the things I wanted to do. I work and work and work, never use any government services but find that the risk of divorce costs and the intrusiveness of the secular state into marriage and parenting is just too much to fight against. The more wealth is redistributed, the less men will be willing to marry.

            Well, I am going to give you the last word. Please consider this post closed to further comments. You can comment on other posts.

  4. angelawd says:

    “I think this is interesting because what it means is that young women are viewing children as means to their own happiness, regardless of the effects that single-motherhood, with all that it implies, has on the child. It strikes me as incredibly selfish.”

    It is even more incredibly selfish that the men in this situation are treating women’s bodies as a disposable object of pleasure, and do not take responsibility for the child, either. How can we mention one form of selfishness without the other?

    By the way, the scenario of your post is only one scenario by which women become single mothers. I believe the majority of single mothers would not wish their situation on their worst enemies, and are painfully aware of the effect on their children. Again, why focus on only one of the parents?

    • It’s very very true, which is why I am nearing my mid-thirties and still chaste. Sex is not a toy! I even turned down the opportunity to hold hands recently with a woman I really really liked!

      I think your point about this scenario being only one is disputed by the evidence. The research shows that this is the most common scenario.

      Your point about men is spot on – men have a share in the blame.

    • AnonymusGeek says:

      Stop being so stereotypical.
      The solution is simple: Stop dating jerks then. Problem solved.

      Not all of us men treat women as “objects”. Have you ever bother to think that maybe it is your choice in men that may be the result in becoming a single mother or baby mama? The uninformed women I know are always dating jerks. They always ignore the decent men out there. How can you say we all treat you as “objects” when you haven’t even asked every single guy out.

      Don’t blame men for your stupid decisions.

  5. AnonymusGeek says:

    What causes women to become single mothers?

    Simple. The women’s poor choice in men.

    How it affects the kids?

    Depends. If she’s a responsible mother & disciplines her children, then both her & her offspring should be ok. But if she’s still acts like a party teen &/or doesn’t care what her children, then her children are screwed. If the child is not provided some father & motherly figure as a role model, then her child may go through hardship, whether it’s emotional, social, & may impact the single parents financially.

  6. jennifer says:

    Have to agree completly with you on this AnonymusGeek.
    I am a single mother have been since i was 19, and as you commented on i had the wrong choice in a boy. I was not looking to get pregnant i just like every other smart girl wanted to wait till i was happily married. Life doesnt always work the way that we want it to does it though. Another note is that i am the type of mom that i heve taken care of my son no help for the government, no help from the father, just me and my son. I believe in decipline and as far as single parents stand, i have seen with my own two eyes kids that are raised in two parent households can be more out of control then in single parent households. I have to think this is becuase they have little to no respect for the jobs their parents do. My son respects me and knows they reasons for why i get on to him, but at the end of the night he loves me just as i love him.

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