When I wrote a post praising Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann, for leading an unconventional, mostly single life as a mother, there was a rousing discussion in the comments about what constitutes an "ideal" environment for children. Was it heinous that Stanley Ann left Barack with his grandparents to globe trot? Did she not have his best interests at heart? Well in today's Slate, Emily Yoffe argues that economically, a two parent household is statistically a better environment for a child than a household headed by a single mother. Yoffe makes the excellent point that most single moms aren't like college and grad school-educated Stanley Ann: "outside Hollywood, there aren't too many Murphy Browns—successful, educated women who choose to have children alone. The Murphy Browns actually get married: Only 4 percent of college graduates have children out of wedlock."
Yoffe is not suggesting women get married to abusive or otherwise shitty spouses just for a modicum of economic security, but again, she backs up her notion that it's better for mothers to get married with research. Yoffe quotes Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, who found that the increase of single-parent families "can account for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since 1970."
She also quotes one of Obama's speeches. Barack said that "[M]any black men simply cannot afford to raise a family." Yoffe points out that the percentage of unwed mothers in the African American community is close to 70%. "I'm trying to follow the logic here," Yoffe writes. "I can understand that a woman looking to get married may decide that a man is such a poor economic prospect that he's not husband material (even if a husband with a low income is better than no husband and no income). But how then is that same man, or a string of them, worthy of fathering her children?"
What I wonder is how many single mothers, regardless of race, are actively "choosing" to be single mothers. Were they trying to get pregnant, realizing full well that they would be raising the child by themselves? Or were they careless about birth control and dealing with the consequences in the way they see fit? Or do they get pregnant on purpose, hoping that it will make a previously flinchy man rise to the occasion?
Some people will probably point out that Yoffe's article places the onus on women to make the best decisions for their offspring, and doesn't place enough blame on the men who don't support their children. But like it or not, women are the ones left holding the baby when a relationship doesn't work out, regardless of blame placed or policies changed.
Every mother, single or wed, is just trying to do the best she can under the circumstances presented to her. As a single woman myself, I can't see myself choosing motherhood without marriage, because I know how difficult it is. Of course, Yoffe's arguments don't consider the loving and monetarily supportive grandparents, friends, and siblings of single mothers who can create an environment that's just as stable as a traditional two parent household. But the cold hard economic realities of single motherhood are difficult to refute.
... And Baby Makes Two [Slate]