Jun 20, 2012

The Single Mom Economic Earthquake

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the economic difficulties of single moms.

It started in the 1960s when the nation began to sever the historical connection between marriage and childbearing and to turn single motherhood and the fatherless family into a viable, even welcome, arrangement for children and for society.  The reasons for the shift were many, including the sexual revolution, a powerful strain of anti-marriage feminism and a "super bug" of American individualism that hit the country in the 1960s and '70s.

In 1965, 93% of all American births were to women with marriage licenses.  Over the next few decades, the percentage of babies with no father around rose steadily.  As of 1970, 11% of births were to unmarried mothers; by 1990, that number had risen to 28%.  Today, 41% of all births are to unmarried women. And for mothers under 30, the rate is 53%.

The embrace of "lone motherhood" — women bringing up kids with no dad around — has become an American specialty.  By age 30, one-third of American women have spent time as lone mothers.

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.

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.

A father's contribution to the family income, even if it's just $15,000, can dramatically improve the mother's lot, not to mention that of her — or rather, their — children.  If young people do three things — graduate from high school, get a job and get married and wait until they're 21 before having a baby — they have an almost 75% chance of making it into the middle class.

On the other hand, those who opt for single motherhood are hurting not just themselves but their children.  The children of single mothers are twice as likely as children growing up with both parents to drop out of high school.  Those who do graduate are less likely to go to college.

Decades of research show that kids growing up with single mothers have lower scholastic achievement from kindergarten through high school, as well as higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, depression, behavior problems and teen pregnancy.

All these factors are likely to reduce their eventual incomes at a time when what children need is more education, more training and more planning. The rise in single motherhood was ill-adapted for the economic shifts of the late 20th century.

The bottom line is this.  The golden standard for the family is a married man and woman.  We must champion this for families. 

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