Single Motherhood By Choice
The Millennial Generation no longer views single mothers as desperate and desolate women, financially and socially marginalized, according to Lake Research. Today, 41% of the nations mothers are single women, either by choice or circumstance, and both men and women are becoming more accepting of a single woman who gives birth or adopts. Children born to single mothers are no longer looked down on as “born out of wedlock” and when asked which word describes the modern single mother, 24% of men and 30% of women chose “courageous,” followed by “loving.”
“The Millennials are the first generation who have developed the belief that the decision to have a child and the decision to get married are independent decisions,” said Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research. “Every other generation before them said ‘I’m waiting for Mr. Right.’ Milllenials say ‘I’m waiting until its right for me.’”
The number of college educated single moms who make up this group is small, but according to Lucie Schmidt, an economist at Williams College, the numbers are growing along with the larger national trend. In 2005 there were 47,402 first births to college-educated unmarried women. By 2010 (the most recent year for which the data are available) there were 59,955. Broken out by age, in 2005 there were 16,783 babies born to 25-29 year olds and in 2010, these numbers increased to 22,464.
I’m firmly a member of Generation X, and I conceived my son on my own with a sperm donor. I made the choice when I turned forty and faced the outer limits of my fertility with no partner in sight. I figured that I had the rest of my life to meet Mr. Right and a father for my child, but only a tiny window to have that child. It’s always disturbed me that even among my cohort of liberal feminist-minded Generation X friends, and many in my mother’s generation, that there is still an underlying belief that this choice was the result of a failure to form a more traditional partnership.
Since I don’t want my son’s conception to be seen as second rate, it’s heartening that the millennial generation is changing it’s attitude. A child born from a mother and a donor should be seen as just another choice among all the different kinds of families. When I explain to my son that he doesn’t have a father, but rather a donor, I will tell him that there are many “mommy-only” families and this is a normal modern reality.
In the most recent Census released in May, according to The Washington Post, demographers found that single motherhood has “accelerated” in recent years. The report found that the birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was up 80 percent in the almost three decades since 1980, but in the previous five years, between 2002 and 2007, it was up 20 percent.
Lauri Pasch, a psychologist and researcher who specializes in the psychological aspects of reproductive medicine at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, says the increase appears to be driven by adult women as the rates for teenagers have remained the same or fallen.
“A substantial portion of these pregnancies appear to be the result of women actively pursuing motherhood,” she says.
In a soon to be published paper on the trend, Pasch points out that The National Survey of Family Growth showed that between 2006 and 2010, 33% of all births to unmarried, “non-cohabitating” women were intended, which she says means that the woman reported that the pregnancy occurred at about the time she wanted to become pregnant.
“It’s difficult to assess precisely where “single mothers by choice” fit within the broader category of “single mothers” because most research has not made this distinction. “Single mothers by choice” tend to be older women, with successful careers, who had considered their decisions carefully, she explains. This means they’ve planned for childcare, have a strong social network support, and financial resources. She also notes that research indicates that the “intendedness” of a pregnancy is associated with more positive outcomes for children and families of single mothers.
“I have been working with prospective single mothers by choice for many years,”says Pasch. “One thing I have noticed is more young women in their early 30s are becoming single mothers by choice, not because time was running out age-wise, but just because they were ready to become mothers. This used to be unheard of, but I have seen several women like this in recent years.”
According to Wendy Kramer who runs the Donor Sibling Registry, which tracks donor pregnancies in the US and now has close to 40,000 members, their research shows that 50% of DSR parents are Single Moms by Choice, 33% are LGBT’s, and around 17% are straight couples.
Mikki Morrisette, the founder of Choicemoms.org, has also noticed an increase. “I have more and more women coming to the website each year,” she said. “And more of them seem to be under the age of 35, who are proactively choosing even before they “reach an age.”
These women see the choice to become a single mother, or other alternatives, as just another choice because they have a different understanding of what makes a family.
“We didn’t grow up thinking that every family had a mom and a dad and 2.2 kids,” says Katie Larson, a 29-year- old healthcare worker from Minneapolis. Larson is planning to become pregnant on her own with a sperm donor.
“I’m from a non-traditional family myself, ” she says.
Her parents were never legally married and split up when she was eight. She has a step mom, an ex step dad, and a half brother who is her only biological sibling.
“My choice is not because I failed in a relationship,” she says. “I just don’t feel like I have to do everything in the traditional order.”
Instead, these women are forming networks of support through friends and extended family members.
“The people around me really understand that family can be made in many different ways,” said Rae Goodman, a single thirty-year-old high school biology teacher in San Francisco who is planning to get pregnant with a sperm donor this winter.
As she prepared for motherhood on her own, she even had a ceremony, which she called a “Generation Ceremony,” in which she invited close family and friends and worked with a Rabbi. During the ceremony, her community offered wishes and blessings and talked about the ways they’d support her.
“I’ve got good friends who are willing to make family level commitments to me,” she says. “I can make it happen in my chosen family of friends, ex partners, and my biological family: my whole queer world.”
Without a husband, I quickly discovered an alternative family of support: friends, neighbors, other single moms by choice, my extended family, and one amazing Au Pair named Lucie, from France, who a friend recently referred to as “ the best wife ever,” when I reported that she had made Duck Orange for dinner. In many ways, she is like a traditional wife: she takes care of Alexander, cooks, and washes his clothes all while I go out and win the bread. I call this community my “we,” the alternative to the traditional “we” that is compromised of a husband and wife.
Even though social attitudes and demographics are shifting, however, economic reality and workplace policy has not yet caught up. There are currently 55 million unmarried women in America, up from approximately 53 million in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet for many women, pay compensation has not caught up with the needs of these new family configurations. According to an April, 2012 study by The Voter Participation Center entitled “The Gender and Marriage Gap in Earnings” an unmarried woman has to work nearly 20 months to earn what a married man earns in just one year. In 2010, unmarried women made just 65 cent compared to every dollar a married man earned, and single moms earned nearly $20,000 less than married men: just 59 cent to every dollar.
The pay gap and inflexible workplace policies have significant implications for our children’s well being and future. “You haven’t got a workplace prepared for a work force where half of the moms are single moms,” says Lake. Economics and policy need to catch up to our new social reality.