Married vs. Single Moms
Just 15 years ago, then-Vice President Dan Quayle publicly scolded a fictional television character, Murphy Brown, from the primetime sitcom of the same name, for choosing to have a child on her own. Today, the 2008 Presidential hopefuls from both parties recognize that single moms are a force to be reckoned with -- and would be more likely to send Brown a baby gift than to question her choices. Why the turnaround? Unmarried women are now responsible for a whopping 36% of all births, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's the highest number of unmarried mothers in the six decades they've been counted, and it means nearly four out of ten moms are "single parents." But who are they, and how do they feel about themselves? And how do married moms feel about them? If you thought the sheer number of single mothers was shocking, Babytalk's nationally representative survey of 14,000 wed and unwed moms has even bigger surprises for you.
The stereotypes of lower-income single moms and careless teenagers are far from accurate. For starters, the majority of unmarried moms are involved with the biological dad, and many told us they live with him. A scant 14% of all those polled are currently divorced. Because so many have a partner in the picture, more than half -- 55% -- said they wouldn't even describe themselves as single. "My daughter's father and I have been together for more than six years, but when we found out I was pregnant, we decided that taking on new roles as husband and wife might detract from our upcoming roles of 'mommy' and 'daddy,'" explains Myranda Bellman of Valparaiso, Indiana. "I think the status of the relationship is unimportant. What matters is that the mother and father are dependable and consistent." Women today choose not to marry for myriad reasons, including simply not getting around to it. "I have been with my partner for more than ten years; however, life, money, and the pursuit of an education got in the way," says Mary Orlando of Spring, Texas. "Two children later, we still have not bothered with the stress of planning a wedding. When my children ask, I will tell them that we are married in our hearts, because marriage isn't about the dress, cake, or ring -- it's really about two people who love each other unconditionally." The attitude that marriage is "just a piece of paper" hit home with 32% of the unmarried moms surveyed, and others commented that they either "don't see the need to mess with a relationship that's working fine" or don't want to "pin each other down." But many of these women may be offering up the politically correct excuses. A whopping 81% of unmarried moms also agreed that "marriage is a sacred institution" and that "a child needs two parents." And 64% admitted that they "wish they were married." "I'm finding it unbearable that the father of my newborn and I haven't committed to each other on a more serious note," confesses Lori Fisher of Somerset, Pennsylvania. "I feel that raising her in a secure environment with both parents committed to each other would only benefit her in the long term."
Patty Onderko is a senior editor at Babytalk. Additional reporting by Stephanie Wood and Jackie Spinelli.