It’s the Poverty, Stupid

Buried within a lengthy article last week in the NYT about the menace to society presented by a group of middle-aged, single women raising children without fathers, are some interesting tidbits about poverty and single mothers.

Since the mid-1990s, in England, Susan Golombok of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge has been conducting a longitudinal study of middle-class single mothers. She is comparing the children of 38 two-parent heterosexual couples with those of 25 lesbian couples and 38 single mothers. Most of the mothers have a university degree and a professional or managerial job.

When the children turned 12, Golombok measured their emotional and behavioral development, school adjustment, peer relationships and self-esteem and found no differences among the groups. That held true in the latest round of interviews with the kids, who are now 18.

That’s not what I’ve been hearing from social conservatives, demographic winter types, or the religious right! Perhaps no one has told them of this research.

Sara McLanahan, a sociologist at Princeton, has been studying the effects of divorce and single parenting on kids since the 1980s. Fundamentally, her work reveals the risks of instability. The biggest reason that children born to unmarried mothers tend to have problems — they’re more likely to drop out of school and commit crimes — is that they tend to grow up poor. Children of divorce may also experience a drop in income, and their mothers are at a heightened risk for depression, which in turn raises the risk of mental-health troubles for the kids.

No one has shown, however, that there are similar risks for the children of college-educated single mothers by choice. In research that’s not yet published, McLanahan has found that college-educated single mothers generally experience less instability and stress related to men than other single mothers. But at the same time, when college-educated mothers do have relationships with men that prove unstable, she says, their children experience a greater drop than the children of less-educated women in “literacy activities” — playing games and reading books with their mothers. “This is partly because the educated moms normally do a lot of these activities,” McLanahan says. “Now they’re doing a lot less. When they’re in the relationship, that’s a competing activity. Then if it breaks up, they are sad and distracted.”

In other words, breakups can function like mini-divorces.


1. This research indicates that it is poverty, not being raised by only one parent, that causes problems for children. Of course, single motherhood is often a major indicator for poverty for women.

Having a child can push women with high-school educations or less into poverty; having a second child increases that risk. But the same risks don’t apply to most college-educated unmarried mothers, according to Child Trends, a research center.

2. Single mothers with higher education and a middle class income have children who are as well-adjusted as children with two parents.

3. Dating men may actually be worse for single mothers than just postponing the hunt for a mate until children are grown.

Take that, out-dated prejudices against single mothers! It’s the poverty, stup,


4 thoughts on “It’s the Poverty, Stupid

  1. Yes, time and time again, society’ problems come down to poverty. I learned all that taking criminology and race/ethnic relations courses back in the 70’s. All anyone has to do is look at the Scandanavian countries to see how many social problems seem to melt into nothing if you just take care of poverty, or at least make sure that poverty doesn’t mean going without healthcare, a roof, nutritious food, and a good education with ready access to the highest education you’re capable of. Not only are the Danish the happiest people of the world, but Denmark was recently found to have the best business climate. Sure, if you have those basics taken care of whatever happens, you feel more free to innovate and start businesses. As the meerkat would say, “Simples! (squeek)”.

  2. hello

    i would like to say that you shouldn’t give money to tramps because they could easily spend it on drugs or alchohol, we should give food, or a house, a blanket, a goat or a fence to keep the goat away! anywho i feel im getting off subject…poverty IS bad!!!

    thank you for your time!

  3. @ eleanor vanditramp–

    what’s a tramp like me going to do when my house falls into disrepair (from all the whoring and drugging), my blanket becomes soiled with that wine of fornication I’m always drinking, and most importantly, when I finish eating my goat? What’s a tramp like me supposed to do then? The only thing I know how to be is a tramp. We (and by “we,” I mean tramps) are people too, and we need money just like everyone else.

  4. Give time and care. Take a moment to hear the story of a “tramp” and you’ll find someone who has suffered more misfortune that he or she personally could bear. Be glad you haven’t encountered more than you can bear (you will have no knowledge of that amount until you reach it). Help them back on their feet. I personally know someone who spent seven years on the street homeless, finally got a break, and ended up with a scholarship to Columbia University graduate school on the basis of excellent academics in undergrad. His father was a drunk, his mother a schizophrenic, and he ended up a veteran just after VN. All that potential could have gone to waste. He now helps others who suffer.

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