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Elizabeth Gregory

Elizabeth Gregory

Posted: November 11, 2010 10:44 PM

I know I'm behind. Awful busy is my term of choice. As in awful. Not short for awfully. Well, it's partly awful, partly just hectic, partly fabulous -- having a family and a job and lots to do. Mostly they're good things, and eventually most do get done.

But how much more difficult would it be to get things done, I reflect in spare moments, if I didn't have a partner? Much more I'm guessing.

Which takes me to the census story published last week, which focused on the apparently surprising news that some single moms have live-in partners. As in, not all couples are married. The New York Times registered surprise:

"Everybody tends to think of single mothers as being alone with their child, and we wanted to look at whether that was true," said Jane Dye, the demographer who wrote the report, "Fertility of American Women: 2008." "We found that 28 percent of these women were living with an unmarried partner, whether opposite sex or same sex."


While cohabitation has increased enormously over the last generation, the catchall category of "single mother" has often blurred the difference between those living alone and those living with a partner.

Does everybody actually assume all single moms are alone? Not me. And not Andrew Cherlin, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University, or Pamela Smock, director of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan. Further down in the piece, both "said they were surprised that the number of mothers living with a partner was not higher, since previous estimates had put it at around half of unmarried mothers.

"Cohabitation until recently was invisible in government reports,"Mr. Cherlin said. "It's data we need. If we're concerned about stable environments for children, we have to know whether we should be focusing our efforts on helping cohabiting couples keep their relationship together, or whether we're talking about unmarried teen mothers who are on their own."

The real surprise is not that some unmarried women have partners, but that it's so few.

40 percent of the nation's kids these days are born to single moms. Are we concerned about stable -- or what about nurturing or non-impoverished -- environments for the more than two thirds of that 40 percent whose single moms are on their own? That's a lot of kids and moms working really hard to get all the necessary things done, every day. That's 27 percent of the nation's families who are really awful busy. Then add in the moms who used to be married (i.e., weren't among the 40 percent counted as single when their kids were born) but aren't any more, and you've got a full passel.

Yet another reason to expand access to good, affordable childcare. Because parents all need help to do the best by the next generation, and single parents all the more so.

In the current environment, I don't see the national childcare system that seems to reasonable to me coming along in the short term. So how do we expand childcare access now?

One direct way would be to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Just like in all those studies of women around the globe who will much more reliably spend extra cash on their kids than will the dads, if you put more money in American women's pockets (as in, give them the raise that a fair wage would involve) and they'll spend some important part of that on finding better care for their kids. A point you might make to your senators in the next week or two. Can lame ducks fly?

 
 
 

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