A new study of nearly 4,000 women has found that 28 percent of women with two or more children had them by different men. A longitudinal study, it took place over the course of 27 years, with 20 interviews.
Although the phenomenon of "multiple partner fertility" crossed demographic lines, the rate was 59 percent among African-American women, 35 percent among Latinas, and 22 percent among white women.
The author of the study, Cassandra Dorius, told Time, "I was a year into this project before I realized that my mother was one of these women. We tend to think of women with multiple partner fertility as being only poor single women with little education and money, but in fact at some point, most were married, and working, and going to school, and doing all the things you're supposed to do to live the American Dream."
What's interesting here is how the women interviewed described their own experiences. The last interview was conducted when the women were past childbearing years. According to The Los Angeles Times, "The women who had multiple fathers for their children said they ended up having more children than they had said was 'ideal' when they were young adults."
A sociologist who apparently was not involved in the study speculated that economic and social inequality played its own role: "Women with lower expectations for education and career don't see that they will be in a significantly different place in 10 years. So there's no reason to wait to have kids."
And Dorius herself went even further, saying that multipartner fertility isn't just a byproduct of inequality, but an engine of it: "Juggling all the different needs and demands of fathers in at least two households, four or more pairs of grandparents, and two or more children creates a huge set of chronic stressors that families have to deal with for decades."
It's important to make a distinction between describing these phenomena and stigmatizing the fertility choices of these women, as if to blame them for their own poverty, for having "too many" babies with too many fathers. It's even more important that all women have access to the resources to make their own choices about family planning — whether that means more children or fewer, with whomever they choose—and to the support they need for the children they do have. And for men to take responsibility for their children, regardless of their relationship with the mother.