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Promoting Marriage among Single Mothers: An Ineffective Weapon in the War on Poverty?

January 13, 2014 Comments off

Promoting Marriage among Single Mothers: An Ineffective Weapon in the War on Poverty?
Source: Council on Contemporary Families

The rapid rise in nonmarital fertility is arguably the most significant demographic trend of the past two decades. The proportion of births to unmarried women grew 46 percent over the past 20 years so that more than four in ten births now occur to unmarried women. Nonmarital fertility is quickly becoming a dominant pathway to family formation, especially among the disadvantaged. This is worrisome because decades of research show that children raised in single-parent homes fare worse on a wide range of outcomes (e.g. poverty, educational attainment, nonmarital and teen childbearing) than children raised by two biological parents. The poverty rates of single parent households are particularly striking. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 46 percent of children in single mother households were living in poverty in 2013 compared to 11 percent of children living with two married parents.

How can we improve the lives of the growing numbers of unmarried mothers and their children? So far, a dominant approach has been to encourage their mothers to marry. At first glance, the logic makes sense. If growing up in a two-parent home is best for children, then adding a second parent to a single-mother home should at least partially address the problem. The 1996 welfare reform legislation and its subsequent reauthorization institutionalized this focus on marriage by allowing states to spend welfare funds on a range of marriage promotion efforts.

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that all marriages are equally beneficial. In fact, however, the pool of potential marriage partners for single mothers in impoverished communities does not include many men with good prospects for becoming stable and helpful partners. Single mothers are especially likely to marry men who have children from other partnerships, who have few economic resources, who lack a high-school diploma, or who have been incarcerated or have substance abuse problems. The new unions that single mothers form tend to have low levels of relationship quality and high rates of instability. A nationally representative study of more than 7,000 women found that approximately 64 percent of the single mothers who married were divorced by the time they reached age 35-44. More importantly, single mothers who marry and later divorce are worse off economically than single mothers who never marry. Even marriages that endure appear to offer few health benefits to single mothers unless they are to the biological father of their first child.

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Is the Gender Revolution Over?

March 26, 2012 Comments off

Is the Gender Revolution Over?
Source: Council on Contemporary Families

From 1968 through the 1980s, the former Phillip Morris company promoted a new brand of cigarettes to women under the slogan: “You’ve come a long way baby.” For once, an ad agency was not exaggerating. Between the early 1960s and the end of the 1980s, sex-segregated want ads were outlawed, equal pay laws were passed, courts prohibited older practices of establishing admissions and hiring quotas and assigning promotions on the basis of sex, laws giving husbands authority over their wives were repealed, women gained access to educational fields, sports, and jobs formerly closed to them, and traditional prejudices against women dramatically lessened.

But what has happened since the end of the 1980s? When we look at the contrast between 1950 and today, it may appear that we are in the midst of an ongoing and irreversible revolution in gender roles and relationships. In 1950, less than 30 percent of women worked outside the home, and the typical woman who worked full-time year round earned just 59¢ for every dollar earned by men. By 2010 more than three-quarters of women worked outside the home. On average, women now make almost 75 percent as much as men, and women in their 20s actually earn more than their male counterparts in several metropolitan areas.

In 1950 employed women worked in a handful of almost exclusively female occupations. Today, they are represented across nearly the entire spectrum of occupations. In the late 1960s just over half of voters said that they would vote for a well-qualified woman for president if their party nominated one. By the late 1990s more than 90 percent said they would. In 1960 only a third of college degrees were awarded to women – by 2010 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees went to women.

Many people believe that these changes have pushed us to a tipping point. In 2010, the widely lauded Shriver Report declared that America had become “A Woman’s Nation” – a fact that “Changes Everything.” Some have wondered if we might be facing, as an Atlantic Monthly article asked, “the end of men,” or at least of male dominance. Others argue, in the title of a March 2012 book, that “the new majority of female breadwinners” portends the emergence of women as “The Richer Sex.”

Our research suggests that such claims are wildly exaggerated. In fact, beginning in the 1990s, there was a significant slowing in progress toward gender equality that has yet to be reversed.

Working Mothers, Stay-At-Home Mothers, and Depression Risk

June 22, 2011 Comments off

Working Mothers, Stay-At-Home Mothers, and Depression Risk
Source: Council on Contemporary Families

Mothers of young children face difficult decisions when it comes to employment. Some feminists warn that staying home leads to social isolation, increasing the risk of maternal depression. But many neo-traditionalists counter that employment increases women’s stress levels, leading to depression because of lost time with children or worries about child care. The question of whether working or staying home causes depression matters not just for the sake of mothers’ happiness, but for the well-being of children, since maternal depression is a risk factor for children. So it is important to know the findings of a new study: When it comes to mothers’ risk of depression, both these one-size-fits-all arguments miss the mark.

The impact of working for pay or staying home on women’s risk of depression depends on mothers’ preferences and on their job quality, our study finds. Mothers who stay home because they prefer not to work outside the home have a relatively low risk of depression. But stay-at-home mothers who would rather be working for pay do face higher risks of depression. In fact, these women had the same risk of depression as mothers in our sample who wanted to stay home but had to go work in low-quality jobs.

Employment isn’t always “good” or “bad” for women’s morale. Much depends on the quality of the job, and this can even trump women’s preference. Mothers employed in low-quality jobs face a heightened risk of depression even when they do want to work for pay. But interestingly, mothers employed in high-quality jobs face a low risk of depression even if they do NOT want to work for pay.

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