Single Moms In The U.S. & Abroad: Who Says They're All Single?

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The National Center for Health Statistics says that single women comprise 40 percent of new mothers in the U.S., which still leaves us far behind Europe. Thing is, in Europe, most aren't so single.


As Sharon Jayson reports in USA Today, single motherhood is very, very different in Europe. According to Kelly Musick, a professor at Cornell:

"The relationships of the parents are much less stable in the U.S. than a lot of other countries," she says. "In Europe, where there are high levels of childbearing outside of marriage, when childbearing is not happening in marriage, it's happening in cohabitation. Cohabitations are reasonably stable."

Is it even shocking anymore to point out that with access to contraception, sex education and abortion — let alone less puritanical attitudes toward talking about sex in a normative way — that women are more able to choose when to get pregnant?

Mike Stobbe, writing for the Associates Press, gets someone to say its about America becoming more permissive, of course.

Experts are not certain what's causing the trend but say there seems to be greater social acceptance of having children outside of marriage.

"The values surrounding family formation are changing and women are more independent than they used to be. And young people don't feel they have to live under the same social rules that their parents once did," said Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C.

There's certainly less stigma attached to women who have children outside of marriage, but there's a bigger factor at play here.

In the United States, unmarried mothers are more likely to be on their own and - traditionally - they are more likely to be poor and uneducated, experts said.


In other words, many women aren't necessarily actively timing reproduction to be single mothers, they are often still stuck that way.

The problem is, of course, that if you stop defining single mothers as only those who aren't married to the fathers of their children, and start defining mothers as coupled or not, experts agree that the U.S. would likely look like a huge outlier, given how many women in Europe are "single" on a government survey but, in reality, are actually happily coupled.

In northern Europe, men and women more often live together in unmarried, long-term, stable relationships, Haub said. Because of declining birth rates in some European countries, people tend to be more focused on whether the baby is born healthy instead of whether the mother is married, Haub said.


Yeah, what a strange attitude.

But if we focused more on the fact that of the number actually-single mothers in the U.S. (who, often, are poor and under-educated) far exceeds the number of actually-single mothers in most of the rest of the developed world, we might have to start thinking more about the necessity of reproductive planning, sex education and a healthier societal attitude about sex. So it's just easier to define women's lives in terms of their participation in a government insitution.


Births To Unwed Moms Rising, N. Europe Beats US [Associated Press]
USA In Middle Of World Trend Of Births To Unmarried Women [USA Today]


Erin Gloria Ryan

I thought that Europeans reproduced via mitosis, splitting in half and creating genetically identical skinny, wine-loving, multilingual, slightly standoffish copies of themselves.