Being A Single Mom Isn’t Another ‘Bad’ Idea, Like ‘Littering’ Or ‘Drinking And Driving’

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study claims single mothers bad idea Susan Reimer, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, has written an article about a recent study conducted by the researchers at the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Relate Institute. The study, entitled  “Knot Yet: The benefits and costs of delayed marriage in America” states statistics about unmarried women having children in their twenties and :

At its conclusion calls for a “national conversation” that might — as has happened with other bad ideas, like smoking, littering, and drinking and driving — change this behavior, which bodes so poorly for the future of both the parents and the kids.


Yes, you read that correctly, being an unwed mother is being compared to drinking and driving. Susan bases her opinion on:

It is the numbers that make all of this so alarming. Almost half of first births in this country are to unmarried women. Almost half.

And while baby before marriage has not been rare among the most disadvantaged, it is now epidemic among the working class — those with high school degrees and perhaps some college. Exactly those Americans affected most by the loss of stable manufacturing jobs on which to build a middle-class life.

Fifty-eight percent of this group will have the first child outside of marriage.

And these children are vulnerable to the same lousy outcomes of children born to teen mothers: family instability, school failure, trouble with addictions or the law and then another generation born out of wedlock.

Born out of wedlock! Oh no! This entire article is annoying and so judgmental, this whole “Older women putting babies before marriage risk same negative consequences (as teen mothers)” that I don’t even know where to start. A woman at age 25 who has a child out of wedlock is vastly different in terms of maturity than a teen who has a baby at age 15. There are thousands of singe women in their twenties who are doing just fine, who will raise kids who excel in school, who never have problems with the law or addiction, who go on to become incredibly successful adults. A lot of women don ‘t want to follow the magical formula presented by Bradford Wilcox, one of the authors of the study and head of the National Marriage Project, which he calls a “sequence for success”: education, job, marriage, children.

Sometimes life just doesn’t work out that way. And not all women want to do things in that order. And shockingly enough, some women don’t feel like they need to get married. Not to mention this whole article ignores the reality that some single moms and dads just happen to be gay and can’t get married even if they want to. This just reeks of some outdated “traditional family values” that haven’t been “traditional” in over 50 years. If half of the first time births in this country belong to unmarried women than isn’t it time we start treating unmarried women with the respect they deserve?

Education is important, but not all women want to hold jobs or have careers that require a formal education. For the women that do, we need more affordable and accessible child care, with excellent care-givers that we want to trust to take care of our children. But even this isn’t something just for single moms in their twenties, this should be for all women regardless of marital status or education level or career path. The article then goes on to state that our new best friend Bradford Wilcox suggests we “steer clear of the shame card” and:

That generates a real sense of division. I would talk in terms of aspirations.

I think most unmarried mothers have the same “aspirations” as married women who have children, that they grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society. Just because a woman isn’t married doesn’t mean she doesn’t want the best for her child, and I think I could probably come up with many single moms who agree with me.

(Photo:  deepblue-photographer/shutterstock)


  1. Alicia Kiner

    April 1, 2013 at 9:31 am

    This makes me SOOOOO mad. Both of my children were born before my husband and I married, but not before we were in a committed relationship. Did we struggle? Of course we did. Who doesn’t struggle when they have children? That doesn’t mean that our children are less, or that I am less. All I wanted was to be a wife and mother. Other than that, I couldn’t settle on a career that I really, truly wanted. How dare these people think that because I wasn’t married and was in my early twenties, that I made a bad decision to have my children. Or that I want anything less than everything for my children. But you know what, my children are safe, happy, healthy, and have two loving parents who also love each other. So what if our marriage license has a date after their birth dates. They couldn’t possibly care less.

    • Eve Vawter

      April 1, 2013 at 9:38 am

      WORD! and there are SO MANY single moms who are amazing in every way and it’s so much better for a kid to be with one parent who loves them to death than two parents who hate each other. Gah! Plus, um, single moms are the majority now, and this is all just so stupid, thanks for being mad with me <3

    • Dfbirdg

      April 3, 2013 at 2:05 am

      ……the real problem lies with the selfish women who chose not to have children at all.

    • carol

      February 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      No the problem is trashy single whores who expect to cash in from the government society and men not from socially and environmentally responsible women who choose not to overpopulate the world. Overpopulation and bringing more and more kids without taking care of the ones already suffering here is selfish!!!!

    • Ari

      June 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      So you are either a trashy single whore or a responsible woman with no kids? Um ok? I myself am a single responsible (socially and environmentally) mother, so I don’t understand the only two situations you presented. Maybe you should open up your mind a little bit.

  2. CortCab

    April 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Who are the people putting money into this kind of “research”? Surely there’s something more worthwhile that they could study…

  3. Monica

    April 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I guess it’s your job to find articles that make you fuming mad about your “singlemotherhoodness.” Now I understand. (well sort of)

    • Frances Locke

      April 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Or she’s doing what you’re told to do as a writer, ya know, writing what you know. Maybe her editor brought it and asked her to cover it since she understands the topic. This isn’t The New York Times, no one expects objectivity and I think she brings a great perspective on these type of stories.

    • Eve Vawter

      April 1, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      Ha! I’m no longer a single mom, but I DO believe that single moms are amazing and I’ve very pro single-mom, and yes, sorry if this post bored someone or whatever

    • facepalm

      April 3, 2013 at 2:08 am

      You are correct. This isn’t the New York Times. Or anything else that comes close to actual journalism.

    • Frances Locke

      April 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Ummm, duh? It’s for all intents and purposes a blog, where you expect personal essays with opinions. God forbid a woman give her opinion. If you are going to parenting sites for unbiased news telling then I honestly don’t know what to say to that.

  4. chickadee

    April 1, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I understand what the study is saying, that the is an alarming connection between early single parenthood, poverty, and a lack of education (which adds to the likelihood that the mother will continue to raise her children in poverty) but as you say, there is a huge difference in maturity between a teen mother and a woman in her 20s. And by the way, with states enacting even more strict laws that limit the availability of abortion and the worryingly unpopular sex ed programs that address realities instead of fantasies (abstinence only) we seem to be guaranteeing that there will be more rather than fewer unplanned pregnancies.

    And perhaps poverty wouldn’t be such an issue if more jobs paid a living wage…..

  5. Amanda Low

    April 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    “Education is important, but not all women want to hold jobs or have careers that require a formal education.”

    ^ This is an excellent point and deserves an article in itself. Studies like these always seem to have undercurrents that single working women with jobs as waitresses, retail salespeople, cashiers, tollbooth operators etc. etc. etc. are somehow royally fucking up their lives and their children and should strive for more.

    I have a bachelor’s degree and some postgraduate education, but if I were to hang up my work as a freelance writer, I would go back to working as a waitress. Not because it’s “all I can do” (I have a degree, as I mentioned), but because I enjoyed it. It’s great money, a fun environment and a flexible schedule. I wish society would quit looking down on these types of jobs as “starter jobs” or last-resort occupations for desperate single moms who have given up on their dreams. Society NEEDS these people, and they should be valued just as much as people who work “important” office jobs with benefits.

    • Carinn Jade

      April 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      Boy am I so with you. I should have known when I spent all my summers in high school, college and even law school taking work as a babysitter and waitress. I wish I had known all along those those were better choices for me than being a lawyer.

    • SusannahJoy

      April 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      When I was working as a waitress I was constantly asked what my major was. I wasn’t actually going to school at the time…. But I’d usually lie. Saying I was pre-med tended to get good tips. If I was honest and said that I was just working and saving money I’d get that look of disapproval, followed by 10%, like they just couldn’t bear to support someone who they viewed as being lazy or unmotivated. And seriously! What a patronizing study!

  6. Agape14

    April 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Time and time again, stats show that children of single parents tend to live in poverty, have lower educational outcomes, and trouble with the law. And conversely, they also show that on the whole, children in two-parent households have better outcomes. It is what it is. As with everything else in life there will be exceptions, however, anecdotal stories are pretty irrelevant when you’re attempting a group study. Are you upset that they’re not skewing the evidence?? I don’t get what there is to be mad about?

    • Frances Locke

      April 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      What they don’t mention though, is how divorce and marital problems are increasing in the same working class groups the study is looking at (high school education with some college). Even when couples in the socio-economic background DO get married they are more likely to fail. Also, not every child born out of wedlock is to a one parent home. Many couples simply choose not to marry. Some can’t marry due to sexual orientation, as mentioned above. I think the annoyance is more about the one sided-ness of the column written by Susan Reimer also, not the study itself.

  7. Frances Locke

    April 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    This is so frustrating to me. I’ve only technically been a “single mom” for a matter of about a year between my split with my partner of 8 years and getting involved with my current partner of 7 years. All of our children were born out of wedlock. If I ever had anymore they too would be born out of wedlock because marriage isn’t for me. All of them (my eldest from my previous relationship and my younger two from my current one) are well taken care of. According to the PEW Research Center less around half of all Americans are married. Not all unmarried mothers are doing it alone.

    And considering the divorce rates in this country is marriage really the beacon of hope for stability that people think it is. According to this NY Times article divorce rates and marriage stability rates for the same working class group the study discussed above are both climbing. Your damned if you don’t get married and damned if you do apparently.

    The issue here, from what I can see, is education and as Amanda says in previous comments respect when it comes to jobs that don’t necessitate a higher education.

    • SumGurl

      August 31, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      Same here. I just dont think marriage is worth it. You see the divorce rates. Plus married men are more likely to cheat, fact. Not worth it.

  8. Blueathena623

    April 1, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    After reading the study, I think the Baltimore sun (and you Eve, sorry! pls dont hate me, i love you!) are cherry picking points to make this study seem worse than it is. It’s main point is discussing the great crossover for women in their early 20’s with a high school degree and a little college. The crossover is that since the 1970’s the age for average age for marriage and having a child has increased, but around 1989 the trends crossed, and the age for marriage increased faster than the age for children. The study is looking at the economic and societal reasons for this. I could have missed it, but I didn’t see any place where single motherhood was equated with littering or smoking. One area I did think was lacking was the authors backing up their assertions that children in single parent/cohabitation homes do worse than children in married homes. They offered, like, 2 citations that I saw. But then again, kids weren’t the total focus of the study.

  9. Ptownsteveschick

    April 2, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Also, not every unmarried woman means a single woman. We aren’t married and don’t plan on getting married for another year, but we have been together 4 years and aren’t going anywhere. With the health insurance guidelines changing the the last couple years, most people into their mid 20’s are able to stay on their parents much better health insurance longer, but would lose that if they got married. I can’t be the only person who actually isn’t married for a practical reason as opposed to a commitment phobic dysfunctional one. And when my daughter was born, the hospital only had married or single as choices, so according to this study I would fall into the single mom category? Even though I am most certainly not.

  10. Greer Phillips

    April 2, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Yes, the world is going to hell in a hand basket because of women who have babies without being married. Not, you know, because of greedy politicians, the ginormous income disparity between the 1% and the 99%, or because of men not stepping up to the plate to be fathers. Of course.

  11. m g

    April 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for writing this. You have hit on one of the major flaws of this study (that not everyone can or should get married), but I think there’s an even bigger one: it gets cause and effect *completely wrong*. It mistakenly takes the correlation of single motherhood and poverty to mean that single motherhood causes poverty. This is far from the case.

    It is not that having children out of wedlock (G-d, I hate that word) causes poverty, it’s that those who have children outside of marriage were more likely to be poor in the first place. Many poor and working class women do not have access to contraception, health insurance, or regular healthcare. And further, someone who works a low-paying job has essentially no economic incentive to delay having children. Those on track for higher education, high-powered careers, and upper middle-class lifestyles have a solid, economic incentive to not have children and derail this. The 22-year-old college woman who has just been accepted to medical school is more likely to avoid having children (through abstinence, contraception, abortion or whatever) than the 22-year-old waitress who will earn the same whether she has kids at 22, 25, or 35. Twenty, thirty, or forty years ago that waitress might have married her boyfriend who could count on a well-paying job in a factory. Thanks to the collapse of American industry, nowadays she is economically just as well off without him.

    For someone struggling, having a child could actually make it easier to qualify for many social welfare programs. (Not that I think this is *why* people have children, it’s just a fact.) While it’s true that becoming a mother at a young age can retard a woman’s earnings, this is a social and economic problem that can be fixed without demonizing single parenthood. The problem is not that women aren’t getting married before having kids, the problem is that many women and children are living in poverty. Let’s fix that and leave women and their partners to make their own reproductive choices without our judgment and condemnation.

  12. Miki

    April 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    While there should be no prejudice against babies born to single women, nor judgment levied at those unmarried mothers, don’t discount the value of having TWO adults present in a stable home.

  13. mamazee

    May 12, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    It’s cruelty to put your desire to be a mom above the need of a child to have two parents who are both related by blood to the child. Life is hard enough, and there are enough hurting children. If you are single, be a Big Sister or the world’s greatest auntie. But wait to have children until you can give them the best gift – a dad who is related to them and loves them as much as you do…

    • Ari

      June 16, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      So choosing to have my daughter and provide her with a loving stable single parent household is cruel? What decade do you live in with horrible view of life and family? A single parent family is exactly that . A FAMILY. And btw the best gift to give a child is LOVE. Not a particular gender of guardian.

    • mamazee

      June 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      i stand by what i said. IT’s not always a choice, but it’s cruelty to a child to deliberately deprive them of two parents. It’s a hard job to be a single mom, and we are designed to have both a mom and a dad. Dads do the things that moms don’t and vice versa. And yeah, i’m probably older than you 🙂 – i have eight children with my awesome high school sweetheart husband. I just think it’s not really love if you put your *want* to be a mom ahead of what’s best for the child. And what’s best is to have two complementary parents. Every study has shown that children from a home with their birth mom and dad are safer in every respect, and do better than children born into different circumstances. And even women who are widowed gain the benefits of having been married, in their children’s outcomes. It’s just not even something that has ever been challenged, when you look solely at the numbers.

  14. SummerGirl

    May 28, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    OK, so a single mom can do everything alone, huh? Hey, what about the father? After all, didn’t HE help make the baby in the first place? So shouldn’t he be involved? Suppose he WANTS to be involved, but the mother pushes him away, thereby hurting the child? (Happens more often than you think.) OK, marriage isn’t the only game in town, but it is one and, as appropriate, it does more to help than hurt children. My own mother was an over-burdened single mom and once wisely said no woman really chooses to be a single mom. I will never be able to understand why ANY woman would ever consider go-it-alone single motherhood sans male responsibility “acceptable”, because it’s really not fair to anyone. Raising a child is a job meant for at least two, so what every woman needs is to raise a child is a good man, not Uncle Sam.

    • SumGurl

      August 31, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      Its tough. In some cases the father does not want anything to do with the child and turns into an ass after he planned on having the child. I never pushed him away, he moved away himself after hurting me and never helped out when I allowed him. Marriage is not always an option. Now imagine if I married this guy when he was prince charming (before I had my son) and then after we got married he was abusive? Divorce really hurts children and happens all too much. Marriages are sometimes not worth it and con hurt the child even more than being a single successful mother.
      It IS a job for two. I did not know my ex was gonna be that way after I had our son. And my son is perfectly happy and its my job to keep him that way

    • Ari

      June 16, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Um I chose to be a single mom. Soooo… Yeah.

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