The death of Sex and the Single Girl author and Cosmopolitan magazine editor, Helen Gurley Brown, has reignited conversations on female sexuality, feminism and, yes, single mothers.
Some perspectives on Ms. Brown’s impact on women are not so positive.
“In 2012, we know how well Brown’s vision of feminism worked out for women. Forty percent of all births today are to single mothers, the vast majority of whom are working class, since marriage has become something increasingly for college graduates,” writes Helaine Olen, a contributor to Forbes online.
According to an online article circulated yesterday in the Winnipeg Free Press, births occurring outside of marriage in the United States stand at 41 per cent—as compared to 17 per cent about three decades ago. Some studies say that single parenthood is behind 15-40 per cent of the likelihood of living in poverty.
Some analysts are calling for less moralizing and more solutions that better assist families of non-traditional structures. Others recently weighing in have different opinions.
New York University journalism professor Katie Roiphe has penned a defense of single mothers in the New York Times. The professor, who herself has two children with two different fathers, negates the idea of a “typical single mother.” Stereotypes surrounding single motherhood “get in the way of a more rational, open-minded understanding of the variety and richness of different kinds of families,” she writes.
By 2009, more than half of all births among women under 30 years old were born to unmarried parents. As families in North America continue to change, supporting children from many types of unions is needed.
“We need to acknowledge that we are headed for a post-marital world, and adopt policies that will give the children of such families a better chance at a secure middle-class adulthood,” wrote Newsday Opinion interactive editor, Anne Michaud, as quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press.
Some suggestions she touches on include educating teenage fathers about their rights and responsibilities, easier access to pre-marital counseling for engaged couples, and access to extended family and community life.
Meanwhile, researchers from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia say that children growing up in single-parent homes are more likely to deal with “delinquency or teenage pregnancy.”
Bradford Wilcox is the project’s director. “Most kids who are raised by single parents turn out OK. The flip side of that coin is kids who are raised in single (parent) families are two to three times more likely to drop out of high school,” he said in the Richmond Time-Dispatch yesterday.
Mr. Wilcox linked single parenthood to both income and educational outcomes. Marriage rates for couples without high school diplomas, for instance, have been declining since the 1970s and rates for those with diplomas but without post-secondary education have been declining for two decades. These findings line up with information referred to by Forbes’ Helaine Olen.
The “marriage gap” is also being influenced by economic inequality between the classes, as Americans with higher education degrees are increasingly marriage minded, says the research.
Income issues do come into play when homes headed by singletons are under the microscope. About 88 per cent of children in the top third income levels are being raised by married parents, as compared to only 41 per cent of children in the bottom third.
“These trends as a whole are taking a significant toll on low-income children,” writes Paul Tough, author of the upcoming book, How Children Succeed, also in the New York Times.
But, Ms. Roiphe points out that “women move in and out of singleness,” examples being divorce, widowhood, and cohabitation. “What matters most, it should go without saying, is the kind of parent you are,” she writes.
At the same time, “Attention should be paid to the serious underlying economic inequities . . . The real menace to America’s children is not single mothers, or unmarried or gay parents, but an economy that stokes an unconscionable divide between the rich and the not rich,” she concludes.
“There is no true and long-lasting sexual equality without economic equality,” agrees Forbes’ Helaine Olen.