Women have been having babies on their own since the dawn of time. (Having them, not making them.) It’s not really anybody’s business, least of all mine. But that would never stand in the way of me wondering why there’s been such a surge in the incidents lately. I wondered for awhile if celebrity single motherhood had seeped into mainstream culture. I also wondered if science had spawned the later-in-life-oh-I-should-probably-get-one-of-those upswing. But both of those trends speak to a kind of intent on the part of the woman that does not necessarily jive with the recent statistics.
Most of the babies had outside of marriage are being born to women under 30 without a college degree. About 40% of the babies in this country are born to single women. That’s a lot of babies. The popular theory is that marriage is seen as a luxury item, a step up if you will. If the baby’s father is not in a position to be a solid marriage partner, the woman parents alone. Logical on the face of it, no?
But what does it mean to be having sex with a man (at least once) who you find unsuitable? One young woman refers to having to buy her boyfriend’s cigarettes for him, such is the degree of his uselessness. It would be one thing if this smoking man had been a one time indiscretion, but this is a man she sees fit to seriously date. Why? The explanations could be plentiful and varied, but none leave me confident as to her future. Now we add to the mix a baby, an expensive all-consuming baby. Born to a mother who is not formally educated and may not have marketable job skills. You see where this is going, no?
Marriage, like it or not, provides protection, both for the spouses and the children. While states in our nation are waging a fight for equal marriage, there are locations in which heterosexuals have lost interest in the institution. How do we explain a vocal percentage of the gay and lesbian community rallying for something a large swath of the working class has eschewed? And why are the single parent births so high within the working class?
There is no data to suggest (or dispute) that these women under 30 are living with their baby’s father in a lifelong committed relationships. One assumes that these women are raising their child alone. If marriage occurs at some time in the future, it won’t be viewed as a path to anything (such as parenthood) but as an end point. Generations ago, middle class women went off to college in hopes of obtaining an M.R.S., and working class women hoped for a ring to wear at their high school graduation. Getting married was the mark of adulthood (for men and women) of all classes. Something has happened and now having a baby is that mark. A generation raised on instant gratification can’t be the reason. It’s far more fun to be a bride than to be a young single mother. Economics doesn’t explain much either, as it is far more expensive for a mother and father to live separately than together. Certainly it’s not a morality issue, as people from all classes dabble in an around the edges of their own morality. It couldn’t be a perceived lack of educational opportunities, as there never have been so many remote ways to obtain a degree.
Turning this issue around and around, I am still left pondering the woman in a relationship with a man who does not have the wherewithal to purchase his own cigarettes. Somewhere in there lies the answer.