20 March 2008

The (Lack of) Marriage Phenomenon

Emily Yoffe, the snarky writer who does the "Dear Prudence" column at Slate, has written today about the increasing phenomenon of births to single mothers. Two things I find quite interesting in this article: first is the ample anecdotal evidence that woman after woman expresses the desire to marry the father of their children, but it is the fathers who balk at marriage - preferring to sidle up to other women and sire other children without making a commitment to the (other) mother(s) of their children; second is that only 23% of single-mother births occur to teens - the growing number of single-mother births are to women aged 25-29. Twenty-three percent is nothing to sneeze at, but it seems like there is a distinctly different phenomenon happening here.

The cultural question - that in the post-modern age marriage is passe and single parenthood acceptable - is an interesting one. Having children outside of wedlock clearly does not have the stigma that it did fifty years ago, but the argument that children in fragile families increases social stratification and disparity between the poor and non-poor is one that could gain traction. In essence, how do we talk about the culture of non-marriage and the culture of inequality - and what's the right tack to take in alleviating child poverty, like creating structural conditions that make child-rearing (no matter what kind of family a child is born into) more friendly through policies informed by best practice that are sound investments and make sense in the short and long-term.

The moral of the story throughout all the various narratives - including the references below - is that children born to single parents face many more difficulties in life because of the precariousness that accompanies single parenthood, most importantly poverty.

Among the references included in the article are:

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