The article in itself is not groundbreaking, but I found a few things that were grating, starting with this paragraph:
Once upon a time, the typical marriage, involved special roles for the husband and wife. He would work. She would stay home. It was [an] efficient arrangement in which opposites attracted. Men who wanted to be executives would marry women who wanted to be housewives. And, since almost half of women had no independent earnings 40 years ago, there were a lot of women who just wanted to work at home and raise a family.
The tone used comes off as patronizing. Was the law of "opposites attract" really at play here? Was the arrangement truly efficient? Did all men really want to be executives? What about men who wanted to be mechanics, gardeners and artists? Did all women really want to be housewives? Did they have much of a say in the matter since further education wasn't necessarily an acceptable option? Didn't some of those women want to be authors, retailers and doctors? The author says women had no independent earnings, but by looking at the number of women working counted in the 1920 census, it's likely that by the 1970s, (the "40 years ago" the author refers to) women were not only raising a family but also bringing in some kind of income, even if it wasn't enough for a whole family to survive on.
The prior paragraph that purportedly solves the mystery of increasing births to unmarried women identifies these three factors: 1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person
I understand all three factors and agree that they play a role, but what about other realities at play? We all know unmarried women were getting pregnant decades (and centuries) ago, but we also know that women were often either forced to abort the child, give up the child or marry the father. Isn't it possible that women were getting pregnant at a similar rate as now, but because they married or gave up the child, were not counted as unmarried mothers? I wonder if all those forced marriages proved to be good for the couple or beneficial to the children. Did those marriages contribute to a higher divorce rate 20 years later? Isn't there a chance that, in some cases, it's better for happy single woman to raise a child than it is for an unhappily married woman to raise a child?
The decision for many women to not marry is not necessarily as cerebral as the article implies when it says, "technology makes it cheaper and easier than ever to be single. It makes marrying a financial unstable man even more risky." Are the 20-something women not marrying these men because of their financial situation or are their other issues like the men's educational status and job opportunities that make women hesitate?
In the Wall Street Journal article that The Atlantic's piece is based on, one of the authors is quoted as such, "Kay Hymowitz asserts that women in their 20's should seek stability in marriage before childbirth" and that brings me to the bigger question about all this data. Where are the men? Shouldn't men in their 20s seek stability too? Don't men also decide whether to marry before or after a child is conceived? Where is the research about men and the children they've fathered? What about men who co-parent their children or who raise their children alone? I realize that there are few men who raise their children solo, but how are they faring?
After last year's campaign season, I'm tired of hearing the words "unwed mother" and "single mother" thrown around as curse words. If anything, the parent who sticks around to raise a child in difficult circumstances (and being a single parent is usually not easy!) should be praised, not disavowed. Yes, it's better if a child has two committed parents. It's also better if those same parents receive sex education, access to birth control, affordable college education and the support of social services that many politicians won't fund.
Maybe it's good there is so much research going into studies on child-bearing and marital age, but I wonder what would happen if all the money devoted to creating headlines about the decline of marriage was instead devoted to the increase of social safety nets. Those nets could help single moms like this one who didn't even have a bed to sleep in until a fellow mom and blogger stepped in. Without those headlines, maybe people would be less apt to judge unwed moms so harshly and instead treat them with the compassion offered to widowed parents who are also raising children singlehanded.
We all know it takes two so let's start addressing the unwed fathers and stop pretending that marriages of yore are the answer.