Time to Change the View on Single Mothers and Poverty

Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in various family arrangements, 2012

Percentage of children ages 0–17 living in various family arrangements, 2012

There’s a long standing view that married couples are better off financially than single people. All in all it is true, but marriage may not be in the cards for everyone. Regardless of this, for years there has been a misguided attempt to curb single mother poverty by funding marriage initiatives that simply are not getting us anywhere. Finally we’re getting a clue:

We are continuing to spend money on … these healthy marriage initiatives and I think the evidence is now clear that these are not effective policies,” said Kristi Williams, an associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University. “So, it’s time to start thinking about spending that money in a way that’s more likely to help single mothers and their children.”

Speaking from personal experience as a single mother who has struggled at the poverty level, there are so many different reasons why single mothers may not get married or stay married if they do. Every woman has her own reasons and they are valid. In my case, my daughter’s father died when she was very young, and we were never married. I could list a few reasons why I never married after that, however, Kristi Williams does a great job explaining more on the topic:

Williams points to a study finding that more than half of single moms who married were divorced  by the time they reached ages 35 to 44. In many cases, she notes, women who marry and later divorce are worse off financially.

Children also don’t always benefit, she said. Her research found that the children of single mothers who later married did not often have extra physical or psychological advantages once they were adolescents.

The bottomline is, marriage is not the simple fix for every single mother out there. It never has been and it never will be. The question remains, what can we do that is different to help these women transcend living at the poverty level because pushing initiatives that fit in a specific “moral” box are not the answer.

Williams argues that policymakers might get more bang for their buck if they used that money for other efforts to improve the financial futures of young, low-income women. Those include programs to help reduce unintended pregnancies and ones that subsidized child care for children three years old and younger, she said.

I agree with Williams on this. We help raise single mothers and their children out of poverty by funding initiatives that help them, not push a moral ideal on them that may not be the answer to getting them out of poverty.

Mind you, it is not that single mothers who stay single don’t want to get married. The majority do, no doubt, but for whatever reason, it is tougher many times to find a man willing to take on the responsibilty of struggling single mother and another man’s child. I know this too from personal experience.

In many ways it’s a rational decision, and that’s why we (think) that this sort of idea of promoting marriage is sort of misguided,” Williams said. “Women, in many ways, are probably more aware than the government of the challenges of having a beneficial marriage.”

Read Kristi Williams full brief: Promoting Marriage among Single Mothers: An Ineffective Weapon in the War on Poverty?

This needs to change:

The nation’s poorest kids primarily live in households headed by a single female (pdf). Nearly half of all children with a single mother — 47.6 percent — live in poverty. Indeed, the children of single mothers experience poverty at a rate that is more than four times higher than kids in married-couple families.

Another good read on the topic… America’s Silent Crisis: The Plight of the Single (Working!) Mother.

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2 Responses to Time to Change the View on Single Mothers and Poverty

  1. DarthW says:

    Interesting article. Having dated single moms – the last one was definitely struggling with poverty – I’d say single moms struggle more and more with finding guys who would even be interested in marrying. I know I will no longer date a single mom, and I’ve had relationships with a few. The guys’ reasons are as individual and numerous as, I’m sure, the decisions of many single moms not to marry. For me it’s never been the idea of helping raise kids whom I know I could grow to love, but the idea that while I would be financially supporting them (often when a deadbeat dad was not) yet the moms wouldn’t tell the ex to back off when he interfered with our relationship, or would surrender to the exes demands when he wasn’t supporting the kids, nor seeing the kids regularly (and the last gf even had full custody, but yet no backbone). Add to that the financial debt that single moms often have. For me these were the final straws. It’s obvious in a relationship with a single mom the new guy will always play third, or fourth, fiddle, often even behind the ex. I’ve seen one marriage of male friend to a single mom mom work. Two great people. However, 70%+ end in divorce for the obvious pitfalls that come with single moms (and dads). No thanks. I tried, and how. But a “Marriage Initiative” is an obvious failure, and will continue to fail. Better to put the cash elsewhere.

  2. DarthW
    Thanks for your input. Your views on dating single mothers are those I have heard from men I dated when my daughter was growing up. The “marriage initiative” really only served the moral outcriers who have no concept of real life.
    Pamela