single mothers, single moms, Bristol Palin

New Study Reignites Single-Parent Debate

September 10, 2008 12:50 PM
by Shannon Firth
Some experts say the income levels of single mothers is a concern, while others say single moms get an unwarranted bad reputation. The issue has been disputed for decades.

Two Sides to the Story

More than half of the women under the age of 30 who gave birth in 2006 were single mothers and, according to some experts, their incomes are a rising concern.

Andrew Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, told United Press International, “Forty percent are poor, or near-poor. A large fraction is dependent on public assistance. Unless the mother is very well-educated and has a bachelor’s degree or above, there’s a huge fiscal cost to the rest of us.”

In April, USA Today cited a report from Georgia College & State University stating that single-parent families cost U.S. taxpayers $112 billion annually. The report was sponsored by groups allied with the “marriage movement,” which believes more money should be spent on marriage education.

Other recent studies, however, have shown that the stigma against single mothers may be unwarranted, USA Today reported in August. Presidential candidate Barack Obama and Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps have each demonstrated that children of single mothers can overcome the dismal futures often predicted by “family-values” experts. Michael Lamb, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge in England said, “The key point is yes, there is a risk [for children of single parents]. But it’s not really a risk inherent in the single-parent family, per se. You can’t assume that every child raised by a single parent is going to have difficulties. The majority don’t.”

Some single mothers say sharing the pressure of single parenthood through support networks with other single mothers helps. Some have even chosen to cohabit with other single-parent families. In 2002, Time magazine writer Jeff Zaslow interviewed several mothers who chose to share child-rearing duties and expenses with one or more single mothers by sharing a home. Zaslow said, “It’s all reminiscent of Kate & Allie, the 1980s sitcom about two single moms combining households. Only now Kate and Allie are more likely to have met online.”

Opinion & Analysis: Placing the blame

Psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler, author of the book “Raising Boys Without Men,” explained in a recent ABC News story that society has been blaming mothers for decades: “The mother is labeled overprotective when she worries about her children, negligent if she doesn’t worry … overly self-involved if she pursues a career or holds down a job, overly involved with her kids if she doesn’t. … If you think that’s a problem, consider how much more severe the judgment is on single or lesbian mothers.”

She says that single mothers have been unjustly blamed for the inadequacies of their children for ages; for instance, some have accused mothers who were too close to their sons of making them homosexual, and mothers who were too distant of making their children autistic.

High school teacher Amy Souze, who blogs as Windy City Mama, says positive reinforcement is key when talking about single mothers. She wrote on the blog Chicago Parent that she was delighted with USA Today’s recent report praising single mothers: “I would say that in my high school homeroom classroom, half the kids are raised by single parents (single mothers). They fare no better nor worse than the kids raised in traditional mother/father homes. The kids who are struggling appear to be the ones that do not connect with any parent at all.”

Related Topics: Politics, film and single mothers

In 1992, the argument over single-parent families seeped into the political arena after eventual Vice President Dan Quayle famously criticized the hit CBS television show “Murphy Brown,” whose title character chose to bear a child out of wedlock.

The argument quieted but never went away, and it exploded onto the political stage again this August with the revelation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol’s pregnancy. But Bristol Palin will not remain a single mother for long, according to her mother, who says her daughter and the baby’s father, Levi Johnston, plan to marry.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama responded to the news by saying the unwed girl’s pregnancy should be “off-limits” in the presidential race. But Obama has addressed the more general issue of single parents during his campaign. While speaking in Chicago on Father’s Day, the presidential candidate lamented the current state of many African-American households: “We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled—doubled—since we were children. We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves.”

Some journalists and media personalities think a recent climb in teen pregnancies may be tied to the media’s often favorable attention toward teen mothers. After 17 teenagers at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Mass., reportedly made a “pregnancy pact,” well-known entertainment gossip blogger Perez Hilton said, “Someone needs to do an anti-Juno flick … fast!” “Juno,” a critically acclaimed 2007 romantic comedy, told the fictional story of a 16-year-old girl who faces an unplanned pregnancy.

Reference: Single-parent families


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