On August 19, 2008, Neal Boortz used U.S. Census Bureau statistics to support his categorization of “single mothers receiving public assistance” as “welfare broodmares” lacking values, morals and ethics. (A broodmare is a female horse kept for breeding.) Ann Coulter also takes these statistics to categorize single mothers as selfish and dangerous to society. In her book, Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America, she spends a whole chapter apostatizing against the terrible single mother, entitled “Victim of a crime? Thank a Single Mother." She argues that single mothers are responsible for raising criminals and American moral blight, and she likes to refer to children of divorce as "future strippers." The following is a list of direct quotes from her book of the statistics she uses to validate her claim that single mothers (both unwed or divorced) not only "cost the US taxpayer $112 billion every year," but also plague our entire society:
- Controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and place of residence, the strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent.
- By 1996, 70 % of inmates in state juvenile detention centers serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers.
- 72% of juvenile murderers and 60% of rapists come from single-mother homes.
- 70% percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents, and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers.
- Girls raised without fathers are more sexually promiscuous and more likely to end up divorced.
- A 1990 study by the Progressive Policy Institute showed that after controlling for single motherhood, the difference between black and white crime rates disappeared.
People, such as this blogger, find Coulter's statistics as certifiable evidence that "as a society, we need to understand: staying in marriage, even a bad marriage, is better for the children except in the most egregious cases because single parents, even conscientious, well meaning single parents, generally don’t do as good a job raising their children as two parent families." This rhetoric is not only offensive but also defies basic logic. Enduring a terrible marriage because it doesn't reach a level of "egregious" special exceptions creates unhappy parents, which affects not only their life but also their interactions with their children. Berit Brogaard further counters, "women who divorce sometimes find that they have more time for the kids after the divorce. When you no longer have to devote time to a marriage, that time can be spent with the kids."
There are two extremes of single mother bias. On one end, there are the Coulters of the world who hold the notion that single mothers are the root of societal evils. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are highly uncomfortable with this demonizing opinion but ultimately agree that while there is nothing "wrong" with single mothers, ultimately, two parents are undoubtedly better than one. Though one is more toxic than the other, both are troubling. Lindsay Cross reminds us that we should not harp too much on statistics, as we may lose the individual stories in these "broad strokes" and forget that while marital status may impact individuals, individuals are certainly not dependent on it. After all, there are many successful people in every part of society who were raised by single parents (the past two of three US Presidents for example). Bella DePaula, PhD unpacks some of the statistics in her book, in a chapter titled “Singled Out.” For example, while children of single parents have higher substance problems, she notes that the statistic is only 1.2% more than that of the children of two biological parents. That nominal difference is " not a very big return on twice the love, attention, and resources." Further, she notes that if we really want to talk about the ideal number, children do best when there are three parents - two parents and a grandparent. Problems with their grades or with their siblings or friends depended not on having two parents but "on whether there was a lot of conflict within families, high levels of disagreements between parents, or endless arguments between parents and kids." Single parents were also found to be friendlier to their children and spent more time with their extended families. In my opinion, children of single parents are more independent.
Having a good partner in life can be beneficial in many ways including parenting. It can provide an extra income, extra hand, shared responsibility, and a way to keep your sanity. We all need support networks; after all it does take a village. I was raised by a wonderful mother, various family members, terrific day care, passionate babysitters, leaders in after-school care, summer camp, and of course inspiring teachers. Things were economically difficult at times, but I was never poor when it came to love, support, and my education. The U.S. society is structured in a way that disadvantages women, and mothers even more so. Single mothers simply feel an intensification of the societal barriers all women face. If we had paid maternity leave, better after school care, and availability to go yet affordable childcare (to name a few), single motherhood would most certainly not drive these kinds of statistics. If it takes a village to raise children, lets put our energy and resources into the infrastructure of that village. After all, whether you have children or not, we all benefit from giving all children an opportunity to thrive.
I'd like to dedicate these two posts to my single mom, to whom I owe so much of my success and strength, and to the many individuals who live in my village.