By Shanda Glover
On February 20, the Chicagoist reported on new legislation being filed in Springfield, Illinois. The bill, sponsored by two Republican state lawmakers, would deny a single mother financial assistance. If her child’s father is not listed on the birth certificate, she could be denied an official birth certificate.
The bill states:
“[T]hat if the unmarried mother cannot or refuses to name the child’s father, either a father must be conclusively established by DNA evidence or, within 30 days after birth, another family member who will financially provide for the child must be named, in court, on the birth certificate. Provides that absent DNA evidence or a family member’s name, a birth certificate will not be issued and the mother will be ineligible for financial aid from the State for support of the child.”
The implications of marriage have evolved drastically in America over the last 50 years, similar to the morphing image of motherhood. More women are having their children later in life. Or they’re doing so in less traditional ways: before marriage, without marriage, or with unmarried partners.
Single motherhood has grown so common in America that demographers now believe half of all children will live with a single mom at some point before the age of 18.
This seismic shift in family structure has caused debate. Research suggests that children with two parents fare better in many ways — in school, in their own relationships — than children with only one at home. And those implications are unevenly distributed in society: a black child today is much more likely to be born to a single mom than a white child, or the child of a mom with a college degree.
According to this chart from Princeton’s Sara McLanahan and Harvard’s Christopher Jencks, more than 70 percent of all black children today are born to an unmarried mom, a three-fold increase in that rate since the 1960s. Fifty-four percent of black children were being raised by an unmarried mother in the early 1990s; about 50 percent were in 2003. The level has remained close to 50 percent since 2003.
Single parent households exist in a different socioeconomic pool than married households. Single mothers earn incomes that place them well below married mothers in the income ladder. According to The Pew Center, married mothers earned a median family income of $80,000 in 2011, almost four times more than families led by a single mom. This is likely a consequence of the lower educational qualifications of many single mothers, as well as the fact that they are younger and more likely to be black or Hispanic. Married mothers tend to be older and are disproportionately white and college-educated.
Americans, when they think of single mothers, don’t think of a woman who is financially secure, who made a decision to have a child, who has the time and the social support to provide that child with a safe home. They’re thinking about women abandoned by their husbands who may love their children deeply but because of the need to make a living can’t devote as much time to them as perhaps they should, or want to.
A new Pew research poll that asked Americans about the rising trend found that almost 70 percent believe that single women raising children on their own is bad for society.
With bills like the one trying to be passed in Illinois or Senate Bill 507, a law requiring Illinois’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board formally consider single parenthood a form of neglect, it is clear to see that although our society’s households are changing mindsets are not.
America needs to open the conversation about single mothers. Single mothers are not a problem—they are an actuality in this constantly changing society. The traditional makeup of a family from the 1960s, a dad, a mom, a child, a dog and white picket fence is not the status quo of today’s family. We have to accept that and welcome changes—the good or the bad. Many single mothers are singled and judge because they have decided to raise a family on their own independent terms and that should be supported and celebrated.