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Thoughts on the Rise of Single Parenthood

Back in May there was a lot of talk about a Pew Research Center report that indicated that women were the main breadwinners in nearly 40 percent of households. But a new piece over at AEI points out that this was due in great part to the rise in the number of single moms. 

Sixty percent of “breadwinner-mom” families are really just single-mom families. In fact, single moms account for precisely one-quarter of U.S. households.

…the biggest story here isn’t the rise of female earners, exactly, even though that’s a distinct and powerful trend. This is really a story about a more astonishing fact: Single parents have more than tripled as a share of American households since 1960.

Single parent households exist in a different socioeconomic pool than married households. Single mothers earn incomes that place them well below married mothers in the income ladder. According to Pew, married mothers earned a median family income of $80,000 in 2011, almost four times more than families led by a single mom.

The article then goes on to discuss how the single moms earn far less than their married peers, and how poor child-care options contribute to their earning less and having fewer job and advanced-schooling opportunities.  

A follow-up piece raised other questions including whether the rise in single mothers could be attributed to the rise in women’s roles in the workplace — they earn enough themselves and don’t need to be married — and whether the U.S. government should provide child-care subsidies and paid leaves, like the other top economic leaders in the world.

Unpaid maternity leave can have significantly adverse impacts on single parents in particular who are dependent on their incomes to sustain their family…  Thus allowing for paid maternity leave would enable them to seek good quality care for themselves and for their child during the maternity leave, rather than forcing them to make a choice between their career and their children for the sake of meeting financial needs.

But would providing paid maternity leave and child-care subsidies encourage promiscuity amongst single women and condone raising children outside the institution of marriage? It sometimes seems that conservative values are at cross purposes with showing support for single mothers. Can’t we strive for more stability in families while still recognizing that we need to assist the currently rising numbers of women who are carrying the burden of raising children alone? (Especially when 30 percent of them are living in poverty.)

While we should encourage young women to delay parenthood until they are married — because children fare much better with two parents in the household – the fact remains that many get pregnant while single. To be truly supportive of those young women who want to choose life, but are not in a position to get married (by their own choice or the father’s), we should be prepared to show them that motherhood is not a dead end.

While encouraging them to do the best they can — and prodding reluctant fathers to take responsibility — we should also make them feel that they will not be left to their own devices in a crisis. Private services (faith-based or otherwise) are certainly great options that deserve our support, but we should also see to it that government services are not denigrated under the rationale that single mothers ”choose” to raise their children on their own. We should not throw the babies — or their moms — out with the budget-cutting bathwater.

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