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Marriage is a luxury good
February 18, 2012 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Marriage is a luxury good [NYT] After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
posted by modernnomad (66 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously, we are not educating our young women effectively about the proper use of aspirin.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:26 AM on February 18, 2012 [25 favorites]


I would say the solution is more marriage, not fewer children. Perhaps we who are educated should encourage others to get married and speak positively of it to others.
posted by michaelh at 8:28 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The solution is more couples of parents staying together over time, not marriage. More marriages could just imply more divorces, and the kids are not better off. Meanwhile same-sex couples raise great children without marriage.
posted by knz at 8:32 AM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages.

This answered my first thought -- does this stat include common law/living together partners with kids who choose not to marry?


knz: Meanwhile same-sex couples raise great children without marriage.

I was also wondering about this-- is there perhaps a bit of this in the stats, too (i hope!)? I have several friends who are unmarried queer parents. Although in Canada they could get married...
posted by chapps at 8:35 AM on February 18, 2012


knz- I agree with you, however the numbers are that marriage seems to increase people staying together. It might be that making a commitment to valueing staying together for reasons beyond just feeling good in the moment (family stability, the well being of children, valuing commitment and long term support for each other) increases couples effort towards working to stay together. I don't think this would have to happen through a religious or government sanction piece of paper-- it's the commitment itself that matters whether you call it marriage or whatever feels right. But I do think that talking about and making that commitment and sharing that value would be part of making a long term relationship last. It seems (I don't know much about making relationships work so this is completely a guess)
posted by xarnop at 8:36 AM on February 18, 2012


More than half of all NYT trend stories are under 30% true.
posted by srboisvert at 8:40 AM on February 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


Another example of the widening gap between Haves and HaveNots...education, as noted in the article, the root cause of difference...educated get jobs[ uneducated (non-college) little money from jobs and notable to afford marriage. When this applied to Blacks, no one cared. Now though
the non-marriage also applies to Whites and so important!
posted by Postroad at 8:43 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This looks familiar. From NYT 2002: For Europeans, Love, Yes; Marriage, Maybe
In Norway, for instance, 49 percent of all the births in 1999 were to unwed parents.

''The most important thing, it seems to me, is the quality of the relationship between the members of the couple, not whether they are married or not,'' said Claude Martin, a sociologist who is a professor at the Institute of Political Science in Rennes, France. '

''Just as it's not possible to make wine without the ground and the grapevines, the two of us are together and we made a very good wine, and it's called Marius,'' Mr. Larrayadieu said. ''Probably the child is the best wedding we could have together.''
posted by nickrussell at 8:50 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


It might be that making a commitment to valueing staying together for reasons beyond just feeling good in the moment (family stability, the well being of children, valuing commitment and long term support for each other) increases couples effort towards working to stay together.

I would posit that people more likely to stay together are simply more likely to get married.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2012


If you need benefits, gov't assistance, health insurance for your kids - getting married can screw with the chances of you getting it.

I find hand-wringing over "why aren't people getting married" (as if it's a moral failing in society) disingenuous when policies are set up to keep families fractured. How many stories have we heard so far of happily married couples who had to divorce so they could get support paying medical bills when one of them got very sick?

Fifty years ago, researchers have found, as many as a third of American marriages were precipitated by a pregnancy, with couples marrying to maintain respectability. Ms. Strader’s mother was among them. Today, neither of Ms. Strader’s pregnancies left her thinking she should marry to avoid stigma.

I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing that a woman does not feel societal pressure locking her into a marriage to a man who she feels may not be a good husband, just because she is pregnant by him.

It is simply practical to not subsume yourself in a marriage that may not last. I think marriage still involves more sacrifice on the part of the mother than the father.

And if it came down to getting married or keeping my kids on health insurance... what do you think?
posted by flex at 8:56 AM on February 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Flex, show me one absent father who was concerned about the health insurance implications.
posted by michaelh at 9:08 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say the solution is more marriage, not fewer children.

Depends on which problem is being considered.

For a far more important problem, the solution is definitely fewer children.
posted by Trurl at 9:17 AM on February 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


One of my neighbors has two daughters who both became pregnant. The one who was barely over 18 did not get married, Medicaid paid for prenatal care and delivery, eventually married the father, had a second child and a divorce. She is now remarried and the mother of five (some hers, some his, some both) working successfully as a manager, having used the time she was pregnant to complete her education.

Her sister was not eighteen when she became pregnant, thus not qualified for Medicaid. Her father forced her to marry the baby's father (barely 18) in a shotgun wedding (eh, Oklahoma). After she had the baby, her husband forced her to work as a stripper to support him, the baby was taken away from her and she is now in jail for being caught with a joint (eh, Oklahoma.)

Granted that there are 50 or so IQ points difference between the two sisters, but the safety net was not there for the second one: she was abused first by her father, then by her husband and is now so lost that it seems impossible for her to ever recover.
posted by francesca too at 9:20 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flex, show me one absent father who was concerned about the health insurance implications.

...? I'm talking from the POV of an unmarried mother.
posted by flex at 9:24 AM on February 18, 2012


michaelh you shouldn't assume that 'unmarried' means 'absent father.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:25 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]



"More than half of all NYT trend stories are under 30% true."

evidence for this comment?
posted by Postroad at 9:32 AM on February 18, 2012


...? I'm talking from the POV of an unmarried mother.

Yes, but don't you see that those kinds of arguments are fodder for irresponsible fathers looking for an out? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the lower rate of healthy two-parent relationships among lower income, less educated families isn't so much women choosing to not marry for financial reasons as men deciding to not stick around -- or encouraging women to not marry them by possessing few good qualities.

To me it seems like stable, well educated, married people have a responsibility to encourage less educated people to enjoy that same stability, especially if it's in danger of becoming a class divide, but nearly every comment here seems to discourage marriage -- and I have a feeling many of you (like me) have a fair bit of schooling.
posted by michaelh at 9:32 AM on February 18, 2012


Yes, but don't you see that those kinds of arguments are fodder for irresponsible fathers looking for an out? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the lower rate of healthy two-parent relationships among lower income, less educated families isn't so much women choosing to not marry for financial reasons as men deciding to not stick around -- or encouraging women to not marry them by possessing few good qualities.

To me it seems like stable, well educated, married people have a responsibility to encourage less educated people to enjoy that same stability, especially if it's in danger of becoming a class divide, but nearly every comment here seems to discourage marriage -- and I have a feeling many of you (like me) have a fair bit of schooling.


Actually, it would be better for men and women for parents to be supported by daycare subsidies, paid leave, and nationalized healthcare such that having kids and getting married or not is not a matter of economics but of desire. I don't think most men are wanting to "get off the hook" but if a given man is, then he isn't someone I'd want to parent my kid through the coercion of marriage. Resentful dads are not good dads, and the kids are better off with the parent who wants to care for them. They are also better off with a society that cares about them and supports them regardless of their parents' employment or marital status.

There are plenty of women out there who have not met someone they want to settle down with--or who simply don't want to marry--but who do want to have kids before they're too old. They should do so, not be given grief for refusing to marry Mr. Right Now.
posted by emjaybee at 9:38 AM on February 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


From the POV of an unmarried mother, if a father is going to be irresponsible and looking for an out, I'd rather he do that before I got tied down to him.

Someone can be a good father, but a bad husband. As a mother myself, I can absolutely see that my children are a priority over my relationships. I am lucky to have a stable marriage, and in our family unit I can privilege our relationship as the foundation of our family, but if I were an unmarried mother not sure that I wanted to be married to a perhaps-not-the-best-option-for-me father? My kids would come first.

"To me it seems like stable, well educated, married people have a responsibility to encourage less educated people to enjoy that same stability..."

I think it's rather... condescending? presumptuous? to assume less school education means someone is less smart. You're not in the position of a struggling-to-get-by, unmarried mother. The stability in that situation may well be not subjecting your children to an unstable, unhappy marriage - I would call that responsible on the part of the parents.
posted by flex at 9:43 AM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


God forbid that the paradigm for raising children ever shift away from two married parents. Extended families, communal arrangements, matching the reality of child rearing to actual social structures ... Why, that's communism!

Clearly we must educate the poor that an institution that has a 50% failure rate for them is the right thing to do. It is the only way to fight the Red Menace!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:51 AM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


"but if a given man is, then he isn't someone I'd want to parent my kid through the coercion of marriage. Resentful dads are not good dads."

Wouldn't the better solution to be not to have a kid with a man who doesn't want one in the first place? As much as the right doesn't want it to be, birth control is still freely available.
posted by cjets at 10:07 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even perfect-use birth control can (and does) fail.
posted by flex at 10:09 AM on February 18, 2012


Of course birth control fails. But are you suggesting that all these single moms are the victims of failed birth control?

I'd suggest it matches the rate of birth control failure overall, with is what under 5%? Which means that the failure of birth control would be an issue for 5% of the people we're talking about.
posted by cjets at 10:14 AM on February 18, 2012


Also I think pregnancies as a result of forced unprotected sex within a relationship/date (yes this is rape but if you look at how gently most people look at Assange you can imagine most women would be very afraid to report or think about it as such)

And birth control is NOT actually free. What's more a certain percentage of women have very extreme responses to hormonal birth control and these are women who tend to be depressive-- who are higher represented among the poor.

Also poor women are exposed to more sexual assault and men with violent/abusive inclinations toward interacting with women and families.

These violent abusive men are very often the product of economically scarce and dysfunctional families themselves--- and if their families had been supported rather than expected to bootstrap it perhaps they wouldn't be going around assaulting women in this way and then needing to be kicked out of their child's life because of their dangerous nature's.

Ultimately I think we need to support families. And also consider that the relegating all parenthood to the middle class who "Deserve" it, is a really messed up goal. It shows just how much we don't value human beings who can't earn a college degree. We dont believe they deserve to be paid a wage that honors their ability to support a marriage and family, and we don't believe they deserve a marriage and family to begin with.

Making an unplanned pregnancy the most forgivable way they can become parents because planning a marriage and pregnancy without a college degree would be irresponsable-- wheras single parenthood is (begrudgingly) forgiven while still frowned on.

The idea the poor need to be on more birth control and never allowed to parent is probably part of why the poor are afraid to own decisions about getting married and choosing to become parents. And it would likely be better for their kids if they were allowed to plan their families and make the choice to have them even without a college degree.
posted by xarnop at 10:23 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Completely not joking when I ask this...what are the "economic and social rewards of marriage"? I mean the article explicitly notes that stigma is not so much of an issue and my sense is that flex is right about this:
If you need benefits, gov't assistance, health insurance for your kids - getting married can screw with the chances of you getting it.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:35 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me it seems like stable, well educated, married people have a responsibility to encourage less educated people to enjoy that same stability, especially if it's in danger of becoming a class divide, but nearly every comment here seems to discourage marriage -- and I have a feeling many of you (like me) have a fair bit of schooling.

I don't know why the conclusion you jumped to after reading the article is, "we must encourage the lesser-educated to get married". The conclusion I reached was, "we must encourage the lesser-educated to go to college".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:38 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


And birth control is NOT actually free. What's more a certain percentage of women have very extreme responses to hormonal birth control and these are women who tend to be depressive-- who are higher represented among the poor.

I didn't say free. I said 'freely available." The pill is far from the only birth control method available. And condoms cost about about $5.00 to $10.00 for a pack. If you think that's expensive, try raising a child for 18 years.

The idea the poor need to be on more birth control and never allowed to parent is probably part of why the poor are afraid to own decisions about getting married and choosing to become parents. And it would likely be better for their kids if they were allowed to plan their families and make the choice to have them even without a college degree.

I'm not sure where you are getting this strawman from. No one is suggesting that the poor never allowed to parent. In fact, this whole thread is about single mothers, not poor single mothers.

What I suggested earlier, is that if you know your current mate would make a bad husband/father, you should do everything possible not to procreate with him. Birth control would seem to be an excellent tool in that regard.
posted by cjets at 10:38 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


cjets: if I can so easily point to a pretty much "blameless" way someone could find themselves pregnant in inconvenient/adverse/not-ideal circumstances, how can you generalize to say "well, women should just not get pregnant with men who don't want to be fathers"? Clearly it happens that some women who are trying to "do it right" get pregnant anyway.

What does your judgment solve? It is simply washing your hands of it, and putting the onus on the shoulders of individual women whose individual stories and circumstances you do not know. Are you going to be the person who evaluates every single woman's individual circumstances and decide if "she made a bad choice" against "she tried to 'do right' but was unlucky"?

The blanket judgment just makes it bad for all women who find themselves in those circumstances; it stigmatizes all of them ("if she got pregnant by a man who she should not have procreated with, it's probably her fault") and the laws passed based on "individual people should just have this sorted out, and well if they don't, those are the consequences" hurt the children who result, who cannot be blamed in any way as it is.
posted by flex at 10:51 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, given that marriage is now divorced from sexual activity, how's this: the willingness of a given man to stay with you, help care for your children, and keep you out of poverty may be indicated by his willingness to spend a day in an uncomfortable tuxedo and a few thousand dollars on an awkward party with your family?

I'm from a "broken home" and a single parent household. And my parents were married. It's not a magic spell. But my well-off, white, middle-class peers have almost all married to rear children. That's correlation, not causation, but in the great, unknowable, difficult thing that is society, it's worth considering if a ceremonial, understood, culturally-important state might help with cementing relationships that must bring up children.

As an aside: it's because I think it IS so important that I support marriage - not just civil unions - for same-sex couples. It DOES mean something. And it's not just the who-is-next-of-kind stuff.
posted by alasdair at 10:59 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I suggested earlier, is that if you know your current mate would make a bad husband/father, you should do everything possible not to procreate with him.

Unfortunately, no one comes with a big neon sign that blinks "Makes a great partner, but will be a crappy parent." (The flipside can also be true - some people are excellent parents but really terrible at being a partner.)

There are no guarantees. My dad's first two marriages (my mom was #2) were not long-lasting and he was not a great dad - he wasn't abusive or anything, but he wasn't around much and it was pretty clear that his kids were not a high priority for him.

Marriage #3 lasted more than 20 years, until he dropped dead of a heart attack. From what I could tell at a distance, he put all the dad-energy he didn't have for his first four kids into his fifth.
posted by rtha at 11:15 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flex: I'll repeat again what I said earlier:

What I suggested earlier, is that if you know your current mate would make a bad husband/father, you should do everything possible not to procreate with him. Birth control would seem to be an excellent tool in that regard.

So by making a suggestion, I'm blaming, judging and stigmatizing? I have no desire to judge or evaluate women or men for that matter, I'm talking about birth control as one of the tools people can use going forward. It seems relevant to the conversation at hand.

Let me ask you a question: Are you for or against teaching about birth control in high schools? Because that's what I'm interested in, educating young people so that they make an informed choice, not lecturing people whose decisions have already been made.

Once a child is born, the only outcome I care about is helping the child and the family.

Birth control has become a major political issue of late. It seems disingenuous to support free and available birth control from one's health care plan (which I am assuming you do, my apologies if you do not) and then criticize someone else for suggesting that people use it.

Based on your response, I suspect that a gender neutral statement would serve better. So I am suggesting that a man or woman who does not think their partner would make a good parent should do everything they can not to procreate with them.

How you get from there to this:

and the laws passed based on "individual people should just have this sorted out, and well if they don't, those are the consequences" hurt the children who result, who cannot be blamed in any way as it is.

I have no idea. I never, ever suggested passing laws against them. In fact, you yourself said that it is more advantageous to be unmarried for keeping your kids on health insurance.

But if you are worried about kids, you might want to check out this study that states that children headed by single mothers are five time more likely to end up in poverty. It's a vicious cycle.

And criticizing people, like myself, who suggest that people who are not ready to have kids with their current partner, use birth control, well, that seems perilously close to a pro-life point of view.
posted by cjets at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I'm 'encouraged' (re michaelh) to get married I might go insane and punch someone!

I am fully aware of the financial divide, being an educated single person with a lower paying job in a sea of coupled educated friends with higher paying jobs, thus having over double the household income I have. The divide is fully apparent.

The solution however is not so apparent. It's not like I'm turning down proposals left and right!

I can't imagine being able to afford to have a kid, many of my well-off married friends have 3. But then many people I work with are single mothers with children...but without the swimming lessons, afterschool this and that, or even safe neighborhoods and good schools.

I don't think most people actually say 'hell no, I don't want to be happily married, affluent and middle class!'.
posted by bquarters at 11:41 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, no one comes with a big neon sign that blinks "Makes a great partner, but will be a crappy parent." (The flipside can also be true - some people are excellent parents but really terrible at being a partner.)

Of course not. But if you know your current partner is not someone you want to raise a child with (which is what i was responding to), shouldn't you do everything possible not to get pregnant, or impregnate your partner?
posted by cjets at 11:47 AM on February 18, 2012


I have spent a good deal of time reading about rates of economic violence and I could pull up studies but I think most people here know where to find this research themselves (memail me and I can link you to what I've found, whether it's good or bad research you can judge)... but in general lower income couples tend to have higher rates of relationship violence and abuse.

It's possible that when a female is low income and wants to be a mother, the better choice for her offspring is to basically get pregnant with a male not interested in parenting in order to avoid her child being raised in violence or abuse. Perhaps poverty is a better fate than violent or abusive parenting which I find common among the low income males (and some females) in my social circles (though I have retreated from such social circles for the same reasons). The high rates of mental illness, personality disorders, alcohol and drug abuse among lower income and non-college educated people adds to this.

I think the idea that the poor should be "encouraged" to become college educated is ignoring the huge range of obstacles that many people face to become college educated.

cjets-- you're suggesting poor people use condoms, but among lower income people (non college educated tend to be lower income) reproductive coercion and relationship abuse (verbal. physical. sexual) are much higher, meaning that condoms leave women much more vulnerable to a pregnancy if her partner decides to force unprotected sex.
posted by xarnop at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2012



Her sister was not eighteen when she became pregnant, thus not qualified for Medicaid


Is that an Oklahoma thing? In Virginia they most definitely can get Medicaid under 18 as my nephews' "mother" did. (She birthed them, but left when the second was 18 months old.)
posted by SuzySmith at 12:00 PM on February 18, 2012


cjets- It sounds like you are in favor of being in marriage or commited and prepared to raise children relationship before having sex because there is always a possibility of birth control failure or a change of heart about being able to go through with an abortion once a pregnancy has happened.

I think that's a great idea. It doesn't seem to be a very common attitude among the twenty and thirty somethings I know in my city. In general it's assumed that sex has nothing to do with babies and if babies happens that's the womans fault for not getting an abortion and she certainly doesn't deserve any assistance and certainly DOES deserve a whole heaping of shame and being ostrasized. While the man is of course understandable for not wanting to be involved because DUH the woman should have had an abortion.

Unfortunately many women really do feel differently about abortion when faced with an actual pregnancy (either direction whether more or less comfortable with it) and part of supporting reproductive choice should include allowing women to decide they might want to parent once a pregnancy has occured. This also means that yes, we should encourage all people to consider this possibility before having sex at all, even if they are using birth control measures. Which basically winds up being an argument for an emotionally secure long term partnership in which you know your partner well enough to be ok with potentially parenting with them before sex.

It seems? Maybe not?
posted by xarnop at 12:22 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sometimes look at my life and wonder if a talented statistician could calculate the odds on everything turning out ok. I got pregnant 1 week after graduating college, by an older man who was a professor there. He was not interested in being a father or being with me, so I moved back home and became a single mom. I then went back to school and met a divorced man with 2 kids. We married after a few years of cohabitation. We had another child. We're white and both college educated. I also have an MLS. I feel like each of those facts has numbers and percents floating around it. I really don't think about it a lot, but when I do I find myself a little bit amazed that one night almost 18 years ago led me here to happy marriage town.
posted by Biblio at 12:33 PM on February 18, 2012


cjets: you are making a suggestion of what individuals should do, in a discussion of a societal trend. Without your further clarification ("...that's what I'm interested in, educating young people so that they make an informed choice, not lecturing people whose decisions have already been made") that earlier statement of what individuals should do is very easy to interpret as putting forth the argument that "this societal trend is based on the fault of individuals - therefore those individuals should avoid the fault or suffer the consequences". That is a particular arguing point that is often brought out in these discussions. My points in return, therefore, are to say that a societal solution is not built on individual shoulders; that you cannot mandate what people should do against what people are doing; that it is more useful to think about why they are doing it, and how to best support them for the benefit of all. If you are not putting forth that position (and you clarified "Once a child is born, the only outcome I care about is helping the child and the family") then we have nothing to argue here.

I absolutely agree with you that people, especially teenagers, should be taught that birth control is a valid option; and that birth control should be available through health-care plans (which makes it much easier, but does not necessarily make it free and/or readily accessible - I would go so far to argue in my ideal world it would be free and very readily accessible to teenagers on up). Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education (and widespread birth-control availability) lower the incidences of unwanted pregnancies. This is a solution that is a societal effort, that supports (not blames) individuals making individual decisions.

Since there are many reasons why it would not be good to force parents to marry in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, yet children of single parents are much more likely to live in poverty, then societal efforts to support all children (universal healthcare, subsidized daycare, child welfare payments to those under a certain income level) will benefit them.
posted by flex at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you are in favor of being in marriage or commited and prepared to raise children relationship before having sex because there is always a possibility of birth control failure or a change of heart about being able to go through with an abortion once a pregnancy has happened.

Yes and no. I believe that a couple (gay or straight) should be married or otherwise committed to each other before they decide to have kids.

But I'm a big fan of premarital sex. I just believe in doing everything I can to minimize negative outcomes. As a man, the obvious choice for me is condoms. Abortion is certainly an alternative as well. But, again, as a man, that decision is out of my hands.

And, as you discussed, abortion can be a very difficult and traumatic decision for many people (as well have having to undergo surgery). If the eventual outcome is abortion, it seems that birth control, if possible, is a much better choice.

I also agree that educating people on the possible outcome of a pregnancy is a good idea. The more informed the better.
posted by cjets at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2012


Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education (and widespread birth-control availability) lower the incidences of unwanted pregnancies. This is a solution that is a societal effort, that supports (not blames) individuals making individual decisions.

A societal effort I would support 100%

then we have nothing to argue here.

Glad to hear it.
posted by cjets at 12:49 PM on February 18, 2012


cjets- I think people know pregancy is a possible outcome (though there are certainly some people who ARE lacking in understanding of this process or constitutes a pregnancy risk)-- I think they do understimte how a woman might feel after a pregnancy and that valuing reproductive choice means realizing that once a pregnancy happens a woman might want to keep the pregnancy even if she thought she would have chosen abortion.

Which means using abortion as the secure back up plan might not be as secure as people think and might place an unfair burden on women once a pregnancy occurs to go against what she actually feels and believes after a pregnancy has occured.

Further more if society assumes abortion is the right action in an unplanned pregnancy where a woman is undersupported or at risk of poverty, this reduces incentive to ensure her children will be supported through societal measures should she decide to parent. If poverty is created by bad women who won't comply with their societally sanctioned abortions, then there is further incentive to shame women for choosing parenting, to refuse services to her children in order to ward other women off from making the same bad choice--- and ultimately the child is the one being punished to secure this societal message to future women.

Single parenting is hard even if you are supported economically. I think in general it would make sense for women to prefer a committed partnership where a man would be willing to to commit to a relationship and be a good parent if that were to happen, rather than assume she must know for certain she will have an abortion before she has actually had a pregnancy and knows how she will feel about it.
posted by xarnop at 1:02 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I meant to say there, is that I don't think providing structural societal supports to make life better for children of single parents would reduce the desire for mothers to have a positive committed relationship partner and co-parent living in the home, because that can make life better for everyone involved.
posted by xarnop at 1:04 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you found this story interesting, you might want to check out Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. I bought it a couple years back for my father and stepmom, who, though the foster system, ended up becoming adoptive parents to three children essentially abandoned to it by their single mothers.
posted by jocelmeow at 1:09 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


you shouldn't assume that 'unmarried' means 'absent father.'

Na, that's true. A lot of them are hanging around, being a pain in the ass, and not paying their child support.

My first husband abandoned his two kids and went off to father five more with another woman--then abandoned them, too. My second DH adopted them and gets the Damn Good Dad Award. Among my age cohort, more dads hung around, but at least half of them were pretty useless. Among younger women I see this awful trend after the baby (ies) are born, they either divorce because it crimps their style, or they essentially do their thing as the useless dad. Not that there aren't super dads now, both married and divorced, but they're pretty rare birds. I can only think of a handful of males that don't back stab their ex-wives, bitch about child support, and whine about how rough they have it. They're pretty exceptional guys from exceptional families.

Most guys, meh.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:39 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that nobody has brought up how the system has encouraged career moms who have multiple children with multiple men as a source of income. The system is gamed in favor of people who simply don't want to work.
posted by cuomofied at 1:47 PM on February 18, 2012


I know and don't even get started on career moms who have children with one man as a source of income. Talk about women gaming men. Blech, such a yucky trait in women to want to stay home with their kids.
posted by xarnop at 1:53 PM on February 18, 2012


Completely not joking when I ask this...what are the "economic and social rewards of marriage"

1. It is cheaper to insure your partner and your dependents when your partner is legally married to you. It may also lower your federal tax rate. Per a recent Economist piece, "If you are married, the cost of various insurance premiums is deducted from your pre-tax income, but if you are merely a partner it is deducted from your post-tax income."

2. You will probably get to hold on to more assets when your partner dies. (per this modification in the tax code regarding tax-free transfers of money between spouses)

3. You are more likely to be able to get "friends and family"-type discounts without going through a song and dance.

(NB: Some companies will give you a hassle even if you are married and have a different last name than your spouse; most car-rental companies gave me such a hard time, I began traveling with a copy of my marriage license to prove I was married to my spouse.)

4. Many insurance companies will automatically lower your auto insurance rates once you're married, and if you marry someone with a good credit score, you may get a halo effect.

5. Insofar as a social benefit that may also be an economic benefit: Back in my single, workaholic days with a consultancy, I had 60-70 hour workweeks and all the fun of keeping my house clean/paying my bills on time/ensuring I had sufficient clean clothing and food in the fridge/taking care of my pet/maintaining a minimal social life with friends and family. My male colleagues who were married had stay-at-home spouses who managed their lives for them. The net result: They could work longer hours, they were less stressed/frazzled because they didn't have to do a hell of a lot of chores in their free time ... and that gave them an edge at work.

Granted, you don't have to be legally married to have one person in a domestic partnership take on the home-management and social duties ... but that division of labor is not uncommon in many legal, hetero marriages in a certain professional class, and it does give the salary-earning members an economic edge over their colleagues -- both in terms of what they can do at the office, and in terms of what they're not spending to outsource their chores to a housekeeper/laundry service/take-out place/petsitter as many of their single colleagues still do.

From a non-religious POV, the most compelling reasons I had to get married were all legal -- it is amazing the rights I can take for granted regarding my husband and his property as his wife -- but I'm not going to lie: being married has been very good for our family's bottom line. (And that's even with the marriage penalty whacking our taxes in some years.)

I realize that "For God's sake, marry someone, ANYONE" author Lori Gottlieb frames marriage as "a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business," but a lot of the underlying tax, benefit and consumer structures in America really benefit married people over two committed, non-wed partners.
posted by sobell at 3:49 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


The whole institution of marriage should be decoupled from the biological imperative of reproduction, and more importantly, from the whole responsibility of raising children.

Here are two people who really want to be together and raise children. They happen to be of the same gender. We should sanctify that.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:28 PM on February 18, 2012


you shouldn't assume that 'unmarried' means 'absent father.'

Hell, you shouldn't even assume an "absent father' is absent voluntarily.

If a mother doesn't want the father around, she's got any number of tools at her disposal to be rid of him, unless he's willing to put up a fight.

Hell, a father can pay child support for a child he's not even a legal parent to. It seems like a finding of support should also find for parentage, but I'm not aware of any state that does that.

And all of that leaves aside all the other obstacles thrown in the way of fathers - the "why can't mom take the kid to the doctor?" shit from bosses and so on - plus the cultural/gendered nonsense about how "kids belong with the mother" and well....

I'm impressed that as any fathers stick around at all.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:50 PM on February 18, 2012


I'm not impressed with fathers for dealing with difficult things in order to be involved in their children's lives. That's what every parent should do. I know what it's like to be permitted minimal involvement in your own child's life and I will be there for every second of it I am possibly permmitted to be there for. Ever if it means listening to people to my daughter in front of me "You're so lucky you weren't raised by her!"

Even when it means hearing everyone talk bad about you and being powerless to ensure you even get a next time to see your own child. Listening to people laugh "Hahaha biological parents are so irrelevant! Everyone knows adoptive parents are the real parents, the worthy parents. And anyway if biological mothers didn't want to lose their child to adoption they should have kept a quarter between their legs amirite?!" Visits come and go.

The cultural/class nonsense that adoptive parents deserve to treat biological parents like this.

If you have to walk through hell to be there for your kids, then you do it. I tried to be supportive of the men's rights movement and then I actually spoke to them.
posted by xarnop at 7:12 PM on February 18, 2012


If we want society to socially and economically support single parenthood, wouldn't that likely result in more single-parent families?

In a similar vein, if biological parents can obtain visitation/etc rights against the wishes of adoptive parents, wouldn't that discourage adoption?

Causality is always a tricky thing, but attempts to have your cake and eat it too often don't go as expected.
posted by cheburashka at 9:51 AM on February 19, 2012


If we want society to socially and economically support single parenthood, wouldn't that likely result in more single-parent families?

Possibly. I'm fine with that, in that I don't find single parent families worse in principle than dual parent families. In practice, the worst thing about being a single parent is usually lack of resources (time, money, emotional support). Daycare subsidies, paid parental leave, and healthcare (including mental healthcare) for all would do a lot to alleviate those stresses. So to me there is no moral hazard here, just some economic obstacles.
posted by emjaybee at 10:19 AM on February 19, 2012


I think that having two parents will likely be demonstratably better for kids (given all variables being the same) than single parent homes. Meaning that even with supports in place for children of single parents, it would still make sense to encourage parents to choose marriage/commitment before having children. What's more a supportive relationship is beneficial to mothers themselves even if other supports are in place.

Just to say, the system being cruel to biological mothers discourages adoption itself. Why would a woman want to voluntarily give up her infant to assholes who view their adoptive parenthood as a possesive act of moral rightness and sacrafice her ability to be there for her child?

Most women don't want to do this because they know it would be hell for them. Which means if they can't stomach abortion, they choose parenting after an unplanned pregnancy. I think a two parent home would be better for children and that we should encourage people to prepare for the possibility that women will not want an abortion even if they think they will, and to be prepared to parent a child together if need be in the event of a child.

I don't think adoption is a woman friendly solution to an unplanned pregnancy, though it can be a child centered solution, and in specific cases can be right for some women. Judging by the fact that if given the option of parenting or adoption a tiny minute percentage of women in an unplanned pregnancy will choose adoption (and given all the biological mothers I know in hella pain) I really don't think pushing more women to see the light of adoption is a good social solution. Nor is compelling women to have abortions if they feel deeply attached to a pregnancy and a sense the fetus is a life worth protecting.

I think the values of hook-up culture and the separationg of babies and sex is less of a certainty than we are leading young people to believe. However the very act of leaving struggling families (whether single or dual parent homes) leaves the young people carrying hightened emotional needs that leave them vulnerable to having romantic relationships based out of deep seated needs rather than out of creating a mutually healthy partnership in which both partners are respectful and able to communicate about birth control and the potential of parenting together.

I think part of supporting children of single parent homes would also include meeting their emotional needs so that they can see the benefits of choosing a secure partnership in which they could parent a child that might come of it together-- instead of clinging to damaging relationships because there is too much need and too few adults/mentors/realiable people in their lives to turn to.

I think part of supporting children of single parent homes would increase their ability to choose marriage before having kids and would in fact improve the percentages of single parent homes. Just speculation.
posted by xarnop at 10:37 AM on February 19, 2012


"improve the percentages of single parent homes"

By that I meant reduce the percentages of single parent homes
posted by xarnop at 10:40 AM on February 19, 2012


I think that having two parents will likely be demonstratably better for kids (given all variables being the same) than single parent homes. Meaning that even with supports in place for children of single parents, it would still make sense to encourage parents to choose marriage/commitment before having children. What's more a supportive relationship is beneficial to mothers themselves even if other supports are in place.

Who says that marriage guarantees that your spouse is supportive in regards to parenting?

Why is it assumed that support provided by a romantic partner is somehow intrinsically superior to committed support from any other family members?

Worry about whether the kid gets enough support, not who provides it.
posted by desuetude at 8:46 PM on February 19, 2012


desuetude- Of course marriage doesn't gaurantee your partner is supportive in regards to parenting-- but giving people tools before marriage to find out how they feel about parenting and commicate those feelings and beliefs about family and how to support them and work together on that would at least help.

the idea is that we might want to encourage people that partners who wouldn't be supportive in regard to parenting might not be a good idea to have sex with.

but my point is having more than one permanent adult in the home- who is supportive (that was supposed to fit under all variables being the same, one vs two supportive permanent parents capable of working toegether and supporting each other and the family living in the home with the child for 18 years would likely be more stable and healthier for kids).

Other family members-- if we are talking about the US tend to not be living in the home and possibly not even in the same city. It would be great if values and societal factors changed and permanent extended family was both available to live in the home for 18 plus years and beneficial for children.

Grandparents do not have the same energy to handle supporting with parenting and while I wish we valued grandparents and extended family as part of daily life, I still think having two people dedicated to working together for the the good of the family and the children who have educated themselves and communicated about what that dedication means an how to work together on it--- is going to add security for a lot of kids.

Absolutely, the goal is to make sure the kids are getting enough support.
posted by xarnop at 6:24 AM on February 20, 2012


the idea is that we might want to encourage people that partners who wouldn't be supportive in regard to parenting might not be a good idea to have sex with.

I don't agree with this. Also, it's a patently heteronormative view of both sex and parenting.

but my point is having more than one permanent adult in the home- who is supportive (that was supposed to fit under all variables being the same, one vs two supportive permanent parents capable of working toegether and supporting each other and the family living in the home with the child for 18 years would likely be more stable and healthier for kids).

My point is that putting marriage on this big pedestal can distract from the realities of caring for children. I should clarify that didn't mean just blood family when I said "family members." I don't think it matters whether someone's extended family all sleeps in the same house.

That stereotypical "traditional" home sometimes means fewer than two hours a day for a kid to interact with his/her father in any fashion. That's not a shining example of co-parenting in my book, where mom stays home and dad gets home at night and then everyone eats dinner and then shortly thereafter it's the kid's bedtime.
posted by desuetude at 7:54 AM on February 20, 2012


"I don't agree with this. Also, it's a patently heteronormative view of both sex and parenting."

Yes outside of heterosexual sex, babies are not a risk, however since we are talking about unmarried women becoming single mothers and that this was not discussing donor concieved children-- this is largely discussing heterosexual sex which is the only kind of sex in which babies may be a result.

But in your example of a child only getting two hours with dad on weekdays--- how does removing him from the home entirely improve the amount of hours spent with dad during the work week? It sounds like more of a solution to the problem you're talking about would be to have two parents who work reduced hours and can both spend family time in the evenings with the children.

Even if you swap dad for an aunt, or uncle, or grandparent, at least one person has to work, and it would nice if someone was home in the afternoons so that kids didn't have to go do school for 9-10 hours a day.
posted by xarnop at 8:24 AM on February 20, 2012


Is that an Oklahoma thing? In Virginia they most definitely can get Medicaid under 18 as my nephews' "mother" did.

It might be an Oklahoma thing. Under 18 she is still a minor, therefore her parents are responsible for her health care. The State looks at the parents income to decide eligibility, and those two subhumans did not want to pay to add her to their health insurance. Looking at the boat, three wheeler, and new cars parked in their driveway, they could have afford it (my assumption) and choose otherwise.
posted by francesca too at 10:02 AM on February 20, 2012


Yes outside of heterosexual sex, babies are not a risk, however since we are talking about unmarried women becoming single mothers and that this was not discussing donor concieved children-- this is largely discussing heterosexual sex which is the only kind of sex in which babies may be a result.

Babies are only a result of heterosexual sex (or artificial insemination), but that doesn't mean only heterosexuals are at risk of unplanned parenthood. Mostly, yes, but not exclusively. I'm a queer mom, and the daughter I gave up for adoption at 17 turns 24 today. Had I had a support network, I never would have given her up.

That said, I think the problem is not so much education about and access to birth control, or irresponsible choices, or social attitudes and assumptions (though all of them are worthy of effort to improve), so much as it is that instability generates instability, and it all starts with economics. When you have reason to believe you're likely to be in a good position to parent with a financial, emotional, and logistical support system in a reasonable timeframe, you're more likely to choose to put it off in anticipation of that time. The way to have children brought up in good, stable homes is to create a system that facilitates those homes. Build a solid middle class, provide health care to all, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, etc., basically raise the standard of living so that stability is achievable without regard to socioeconomic class.
posted by notashroom at 5:54 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agree. I also think there is a reality that our system is set up to standardize human performance in the shool system and that does not actually meet the needs of many humans to develop their skills.


If we want to set up a system that fails to really help people struggling with it to master life and work skills to be able to support themselves financially and a family that's fine, but poverty is then a certainty.
posted by xarnop at 5:39 AM on February 21, 2012


Yes outside of heterosexual sex, babies are not a risk, however since we are talking about unmarried women becoming single mothers and that this was not discussing donor concieved children-- this is largely discussing heterosexual sex which is the only kind of sex in which babies may be a result.

Gee, is it still heterosexual sex if you're queer while you're doing it?

But in your example of a child only getting two hours with dad on weekdays--- how does removing him from the home entirely improve the amount of hours spent with dad during the work week? It sounds like more of a solution to the problem you're talking about would be to have two parents who work reduced hours and can both spend family time in the evenings with the children.

I'm advocating for broadening the definition of how to support children, not for removing the father from the home, for pete's sake. I'm not anti-heterosexual-married-couple-parenting.

But I don't think that there's anything wrong with intentionally being an unmarried parent, either, whether partnered (the article notes that most of the rise in unmarried mothers comes from women who are living with a partner) or single. I'm relieved that the reduced stigma means that people do not feel compelled to legally join themselves to someone who may not be committed to truly co-parenting.
posted by desuetude at 7:23 AM on February 21, 2012


Look I'm queer myself so I'm not exactly sure what you want from me on the existance of queer people or how it fits in this discussion.

"I'm relieved that the reduced stigma means that people do not feel compelled to legally join themselves to someone who may not be committed to truly co-parenting."

I think I'm trying to acknowledge many possible perspictives and possibilities related to this issue and it's convoluding my position. In essence we are in total agreement.

As an adoptee who has spent a lot of time talking with fellow adoptees and donor concieved adults-- I believe the voices of those who feel affected by a parent of origin dissapearing and having no interest in them matter. So too, people who have lived in poverty, people who grew up with a single mother and absent father and feel affected by their father completely disappearing and not caring. So too people who had an abusive father who stuck around but made everyone's life miserable (or an abusive mother that did the same), or a dysfunctional marriage where there was violence and screaming and bad feelings and instability all the time.

Which is why to me, the issue is not the family structure but that that human beings have the right to feel how they do about their family structure and absent parents- meaning we can't just say "Any family structure is fine and the children need to comply with our perspective on that". Some will, some won't.

In any case yes, supporting families should be essential, no matter what.

I do not think the solution to getting pregnant by a man who doesn't even have the heart to care about his own offspring is to marry the man. I do think that, having experienced it, it can be exptremely painful and difficult to carry a pregnancy and realize someone you had trusted is much crueler than you realized and deal with being left and alone and unsure of how to support a child.

Stress is not particularly good for pregnancies and this is not a great situation. I believe supports are a wonderful way to make this better---but I was trying to acknowledge that if possible this would certainly be something to help people avoid. I have been pregnant as a result of rape, I know that things happen, and in general life delivers difficult situations that require adapting to.
posted by xarnop at 7:37 AM on February 21, 2012


Why is it assumed that support provided by a romantic partner is somehow intrinsically superior to committed support from any other family members?

So many reasons. Because other family members don't live in the same house. Because other family members don't even live in the same state. Because other family members are not interested for any number of reasons including the fact that they have a child of their own, or are 30 years older, etc. This is just the tip of the iceberg and all of the above is accurate for me.

Other family members can be enormously helpful, but I don't think you can plan on it unless you have expressly asked this of them. And even then, they can say no. And, unlike with the other parent, you have no recourse. They just leave.

However, the other romantic partner is presumed to be the other parent and, hopefully, is as invested in raising the child(ten) as you are. And even if they aren't, they can be held legally liable to help support the child.

No one should enter into a bad marriage just to raise a child. That's not the point. But having two parents equally committed to raising their kids (Gay, straight or otherwise) would seem to be the best solution we have now.
posted by cjets at 3:30 PM on February 21, 2012


Which means using abortion as the secure back up plan might not be as secure as people think and might place an unfair burden on women once a pregnancy occurs to go against what she actually feels and believes after a pregnancy has occured.

Again, for me, as a man, abortion is the least secure back up plan I can think of, because the decision is ultimately out of my hands. And that's why I stressed birth control, not abortion.

That being said, abortion should always be a safe and legal option for women. It might place an unfair burden on some women, but the existence of it is also a blessing for many women. And the threat of it being an unfair burden can not outweigh a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion.

Further more if society assumes abortion is the right action in an unplanned pregnancy where a woman is undersupported or at risk of poverty, this reduces incentive to ensure her children will be supported through societal measures should she decide to parent. If poverty is created by bad women who won't comply with their societally sanctioned abortions, then there is further incentive to shame women for choosing parenting, to refuse services to her children in order to ward other women off from making the same bad choice--- and ultimately the child is the one being punished to secure this societal message to future women.


Given where the U.S. is right now as regards to abortion, this theory seems to rest on many assumptions that have not yet occurred.
posted by cjets at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2012


cjets- I totally dig what you're saying about you using condoms which is AWESOME but reproductive coercion is one of the more common reasons for condom non-use. (As in men pushing unprotected sex on women who are protesting, or even sabatoging her birth control) I wish that every man assumed condoms should be used every time (or have a vasectomy) if they don't want any role in caring for children no matter what.
posted by xarnop at 8:18 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


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