Most Americans Believe Single Motherhood Is Bad for Society, Survey Finds

Filed under: In The News, Single Parenting

single motherhood

Single mom? You're being judged. Credit: Corbis

If you're a single mother struggling to raise kids on your own, here's another challenge to add to your list: Most Americans disapprove of your lifestyle.

Although there is a growing acceptance or tolerance of same-sex and unmarried couples raising children, most Americans still believe single motherhood is outright "bad for society," according to results of a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends.

But despite the attitude toward single parents, census statistics show nuclear families today account for barely one in five U.S. households, while the National Center for Health Statistics reports nearly four in 10 births are to unmarried women, the Washington Post reports.

"People aren't embracing these changes, but they are accepting them," Rich Morin, a senior editor at the Pew Center and author of the report, tells the Post. "The days when people were made to wear a scarlet letter or were shunned after a divorce are ancient history."

The survey asked a nationally representative sample of 2,691 adults whether they considered the following seven trends in modern family structure to be good, bad or of no consequence to society:
  • More unmarried couples raising children
  • More gay and lesbian couples raising children
  • More single women having children without a male partner to help raise them
  • More people living together without marrying
  • More mothers of young children working outside the home
  • More people of different races marrying each other
  • More women never having children
When the results were tallied, survey respondents were split pretty evenly into thirds: "Accepters" (31 percent), "Rejecters" (32 percent) and "Skeptics" (37 percent).

The most striking difference between the three groups occurs in their reported attitudes toward single motherhood. Virtually all of the skeptics (99 percent) say the trend is bad for society, while nearly 90 percent of accepters say the increase in single women having children has made no difference or is a good thing for society, according to the survey.

The difference between skeptics and accepters on their views of single motherhood is so great that the two groups would merge into one if that question were removed from the survey, the authors report.

Overall, the three groups of respondents are split as follows:

  • One-half to two-thirds of the accepters say the seven trends make no difference to society; but, of the remainder, more say most of the trends are good, rather than bad. This group is most likely to include women, Hispanics, East Coast residents and adults who seldom or never attend religious services.
  • The rejecters, a similarly-sized group, reject nearly every trend the accepters tolerate or approve of. A majority say five out of the seven changes are bad for society, accepting only interracial marriage and few women having children. They are also the only group in which a majority says it's harmful for mothers of young children to work outside the home. This group is overwhelmingly comprised of whites, older adults, Republicans, the religiously observant and married adults.
  • The skeptics, a somewhat larger group, share most of the tolerant views of the accepters, but also express concern about how these trends impact society. However, nearly all of these respondents say single motherhood is bad for society -- vs. only 2 percent of accepters who feel this way. However, most say the six other trends make no difference or are good for society. This group is mostly comprised of young people, Democrats and political independents and minorities.
Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who studies families, tells the Post the poll underscores the widespread acceptance of nearly all types of two-parent families.

"Working mothers are acceptable to almost everybody," Cherlin says. "Two parents who are unmarried are tolerated or acceptable. But many people, including single parents themselves, question single-parent families. There's still a strong belief that children need two parents."

But Cherlin suggests that, for many Americans, this opinion is rooted in practical, not moral, concerns.

"They're concerned about the economic problems of single mothers, and the amount of effort it takes to be a good parent. People aren't anti-single mother as much as they are pro-two parents," he concludes.

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