Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Changing Family

I stumbled upon this quote this morning

"IN 1960, UNMARRIED MOTHERS accounted for about 5 percent of births in the United States. Now they are having almost 40 percent of the country’s babies. About half of these women are on their own, and the other half are living with a man at the time of the birth, according to Pamela Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan."

That is a staggering change in America's family life, no matter how you slice it.

But here's what's new in the article:

"What’s less familiar is what these women do next. Increasingly, instead of giving their children a father, they give them a sibling. Schmidt’s data show that second births to unmarried college-educated women have risen even more rapidly than first births — nearly sevenfold since 1980. For Fran and her friends, a second child, not a husband, becomes the path to normalcy. "

Now, I'm not sure about whether having a second child is really about replacing a husband, as this article seems to suggest, or just about a decision to have another child because the first one worked out well. What it does show is that many women are now having "a family" out of wedlock, not just "a child." That is a new thing.

Yet this is not about the collapse of fatherhood. Although the article doesn't mention it, fatherhood is not really declining in the USA. As I believe from my first-hand experience recently having taken 6 weeks of paternity leave and interacting with other young fathers, where men are part of families, their role as parents in child-rearing is increasing, not diminishing.

What is going on here, then? Let's take a look at all adult men and women. 1. About half or more join families together and raise children together, whether married or as European-styleu unmarried-but-committed couples. 2. Another large and growing segment never have children. 3. Then there is a segment of that have their own families as single women, which is now exploding in size. Except that the MEN aren't present in this last segment, just the women. What are the men in this segment doing? This is a question worth asking because of how big the group must be. Demographically, what does this mean for the future of the country? Any thoughts?

25 comments:

USwest said...

Well, let's consider the woman n California who had 6 children as a single mom and then had octuplets at the age of 33. We don't know where the father is, or if there is one other than a sperm doner. The women in my family thought this was unethical. The doctor who implanted that many eggs was wrong. She was wrong to deny selective termination. It was unethical from a socio-economic level because she is on welfare. So tax payers will be caring for these children. And the woman's aging father will have to continue working to help her care for these kids.

This is an extreme case. But I think this may say more about changes in the midnset of single women than about "fathering".

Single women are moving up the income ladder. And with more money comes more choice. This blog is not terribly representative in that the men on this blog are all liberated, educated males. But having done the dating thing for 20years, I can tell you that most men are still intimidated by women with half a brain cell. Remeber the "h-bomb" where women who said the they were students at Harvard found themselves dateless. But women still want children and they aren't getting any younger. So they have them.

Single women are buying their own homes. They are adopting children. Remeber the ending to Allie McBeal? That show was like my life for a good period of time. To the extent that ficiton mirrors life, that tells you something about trends among professional women.

Keep in mind that this is also the "latch-Key" generation with dead-beat dads. The lesson for many women was "don't count on a man". If you want it, go get it on your own.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I actually stopped watching Ally McBeal after the first couple seasons. So perhaps you can fill me in on how that ended.

It's a bit jarring to think that 20%-40% of boys will be growing up without fathers. What will those boys be thinking about fatherhood when they are out there 25-30 years from now?

I actually think, USWest, that there is not a particular shortage either of liberated men or educated women. I rather think we have the absolute worst matchmaking system in the world.

1. Women and men fixate on a set of physical characteristics in a mate that they absolutely know are totally uncorrelated with what they really want.

2. We abhor any actual matchmaking, i.e., being set up on dates by people who have more information that we do, preferring to dress up and try to meet strangers.

3. We encourage, indeed insist, that men and women communicate directly during the dating process, which is highly problematic because the sexes barely speak the same language.

4. May of the places where men and women are supposed to meet -- bars, clubs, parties -- are usually too loud for any conversation at all.

5. Both men and women often have a weird vision of what "being in love" means - that one is is a state of gatg-ga infatuation where all you want to do is be with the other person 100% of the time. The fact that this is positively unhealthy does not deter couples from believing that they are failing when they, in fact, have a good relationship. So when he wants to go to a ballgame without her, she is crushed, even though she does not want to go. Or he thinks wanting space for himself means that this love thing isn't working out when.

The only worse dating system is that employed in every other country on earth... =)

Anonymous said...

While I don't think it's a choice I would have made, most research suggests that over a certain (fairly high) income point, kids with a single parent do about as well as kids with two parents. Having known a single-mother-by-choice for a few years, I think the thing that strikes me the most is that she has so little backup. She has to leave work every time her kid is sick, has to go to the doctor every time, the dentist, school conferences, etc. She has one child, but seriously considered adopting another. It works, but if I was in the same position, I wonder whether I would just devote my time to spoiling my friend's kids. *

With only one parent, there is no court of appeal, no dissent over rule-making, no one to talk you down from the treetops over organic food or crawling too late or flashcards for babies. Two adults seems to make the process easier. To be sure, there are plenty of holier-than-thou mothers who seem to delight in treating their husbands like an employee who is somewhere between middle management and the janitor's assistant. But even some help might be better than no help.

Part of this is generational - my grandfathers certainly weren't expected to change diapers, but my dad had to run errands with us while my mom worked Saturdays. My mom is delighted when she sees ever more fathers taking the kids to the grocery store, the doctor's office, or the pharmacy, since she thinks (and I agree) that doing boring old normal stuff gives you more time to interact with a kid than a couple of hours at Daddy and Me Toddler Jujitsu.

The philosophy of "equally shared parenting" seems pretty rigid, but I confess that I like the idea. Sure, if you followed us around with a stopwatch, you would probably learn that I do slightly more housework. But part of the divide has to do with our jobs and our childcare arrangement. My job has very regular hours and a lot of flexibility. I don't have "rush" jobs or billable hours or court hearings on 24-hour notice. Also, we chose a daycare center that is close to my job, which means I do the dropping off and picking up. For me, it's about *trying* to share the burdens equally. It helps that even though I'm a bit of a neat freak, I'm a bad cook and allergic to grass. Oh, yeah, and I have an exemplary husband ( I'm a bit shocked at the number of professional men I meet who seem to have no interest in smart women).

As for the octoplets, I watched a lot of "Jon and Kate Plus 8" over maternity leave, and would coo at Law Talking Baby that "we're the family with only one baby (so far)." Jon and Kate are doing fine, but they seem pretty sharp and have had a lot of help. Two at once is a lot, Six at once is a lot, and eight at once seems like a very bad idea. 14 cats is probably hoarding. 14 kids? Considering the hoops a lot of couples have to jump through over infertility and/or adoption, 14 seems profoundly irresponsible.

As for society, it seems like gender equality is one step forward, one step to the side, one step back.

-Seventh Sister


*But that's just me. I fully expected to be single, living in a studio, with a bunch of cats. I'm not exaggerating.

Pombat said...

Chuck in a vote for me on the lots of men are still intimidated by smart women side of the fence. Also, the same kind of men are intimidated by women who are not physically diminutive compared to them. And I say this as a 5'9" healthily built (i.e. not supermodel waif) mathematics graduate with a pretty quick brain when it comes to debates who's scared my fair share of men. On the flip side, whilst women are getting more successful, most still want someone who is at least their equal (in terms of career success, financials, intellect), if not slightly superior, which shrinks the available pool somewhat.

I agree that the dating process is ridiculous - by far the best way to meet someone, particularly someone who'll suit you, is to not set out to meet someone - just go do stuff you enjoy doing, preferably somewhere that you can hear conversations, and be happy. Anyway, this isn't a dating site, so. Also agreed on the octuplet woman and her unethical doctor - if you're having kids, first you need to have the budget for them yourself.

LTG: I have to be picky about your 20-40% of boys growing up without fathers comment: firstly, if half of those women were in a relationship when they had kids, it's entirely possible it's a de facto relationship (the European style unmarried but committed you mention), with roughly the same rates of continuation as marriages, meaning only 20% of kids with one parent; equally those 60% of kids born into marriage aren't guaranteed two parents for the whole of their lives - quite frequently divorce leads to little or no contact with one parent. Next, the fact that you focus on boys growing up without fathers - if this concerns you, then girls growing up without fathers should concern you too - whilst the boys may have no clue about fatherhood once they're older, the girls might believe it unneccessary. Like I say, just being picky.

Of the still single but would like kids women I know, none of them are willing to go it alone (and they all have cats, are pushing forty, and starting to resign themselves to none). I guess it's just too big and scary a commitment for them on their own, which is perfectly understandable. Plus to be brutally honest, these are the women that I can't really see fitting a child into their lives even with a man around - they have fantastic careers, and fabulous shoe collections, and their lives have always been about them, doing what they want, when they want.

The men in that last segment? Um, I guess they're focussing on relationship-excluding careers (investment banking?), dating much younger women because they're not ready to 'settle down' just yet, or just not the kind of men that women would choose to have kids with now that they don't have to have a man around to do so since society's moved on a lot from the old single mother stigmas.

I also like seeing fathers getting a lot more involved in their kids' lives, helping out a lot more around the home and so on - sharing responsibility (whether that means something is a shared task done by each partner half the time, or whether partner A does task A and B does B all the time) is absolutely imperative if everyone's going to retain their sanity - I know I couldn't cope as a 24/7 housewife, but I also couldn't cope with a job and 100% of the housework & childcare responsibilities. And I definitely couldn't cope as a single mum - kudos to those that are managing it, even if it might give rise to a weird new type of feminism (the girls in these situations are really seeing that men aren't necessary - most of their teachers are probably female too).

So in terms of the future demographics of the US? Interesting question. Are there any other countries, somewhere European maybe, that have had a similar single mother trend previously and could be comparable? Can't think of any right now.

Spotted Handfish said...

I know I am the anti-Christ being a white anglo-saxon protestant male and growing up in a stable family, but fundamentally while growing up home was somewhere where I felt safe. My parents got on well and provided for us. The rest is bunk. Women alone, men alone, couples, divorcees, gay couples can all have happy kids. I'm sure sharing is better and involvement of two partners makes things easier all round. As a kid I wouldn't give a tinkers cuss whether my parents were same sex or not -- who wants to think about their parents having sex?

Personally, Pombat fits my criteria of an ideal woman. She is not taller than me, and she laughs a lot. And I am definitely not afraid of her. (She told me to add that last bit... was that okay, dear?)

Raised By Republicans said...

"It's a bit jarring to think that 20%-40% of boys will be growing up without fathers. What will those boys be thinking about fatherhood when they are out there 25-30 years from now? "

I imagine there will be quite a lot of variety in this population. Not having a father - or having an abusive father or workahololic father - is not determinative. I know several friends who are good fathers who's own fathers were either absent or horrible.

LTG, you're fears about the American family puzzle me. When I moved to California I was surprised to learn that 100% of my friends who grew up in California came from what were still called "broken homes" when and where I grew up. Yes, that's right. I don't know a single native Californian friend of mine who's parents were not divorced. This shocked me because even though divorce is not uncommon in the rest of the country, it is far from universal. Part of this is a generational thing. Divorce seemed to be rather fashionable in the 70s.

Yet, my friends still seem well adjusted and capable of having good relationships on their own.

Although I'm not a parent, my view from the outside looking in seems to be that if you approach parenting with sensitivity, self-awareness and intelligence, you will do fine, and so will your kids, regardless of the structure of your own childhood family.

The Law Talking Guy said...

My parents were divorced also. And that sucked. Even after 30 years it can still be awkward and unpleasant. Still, I turned out okay, if "okay" is read broadly to mean functioning. So that's not my point.

My point was demographic. If 5% of babies were born to single mothers in 1960 and 20%-40% today, that's a big change in what experiences will be common to a generation. [I say 20-40%, Pombat, because the article says that 20% are single women (who might end up being in a relationship, although apparently most are choosing not to) and another 20% are women living with men who may, or may not, stay. So 20-40% seems a conservative way to read the figures]

I would make similar observations about China, where a generation is growing up without siblings. Is having siblings necessary? Of course not. Is it a big deal if so few people have siblings that kids grow up without a model of sibling interaction? Probably yes.

It's the numbers that are jarring. A boy doesn't need to have a father necessarily to know what a father is or does, since most of his friends will have fathers and he will naturally observe what they do. If this stops being the case - if models of fathers largely disappear - that creates a new and different issue.

As for how many parents there should be, my gut reaction from doing this for 10 months is that two parents is barely enough. I don't know how single parents do it. I mean, where do you find time to blog?

Dr. Strangelove said...

For parents, as for many things, I believe quality is much more important than quantity. I also do not think gender or gender roles matter much: I believe a loving mother can be a perfectly good role model for a future loving father.

As far as the future of the American family is concerned, the things we should actually worry about are persistent poverty, gang violence, and lack of access to health care and educational opportunities. Children are raised as much by their community as by their parents, and in too many places in this country--from inner city ghettos, to dying mill towns, to withering rural areas--our community is failing our families.

Raised By Republicans said...

Gasp. I agree with Spotted Handfish 100% about parents and stable families etc... except for the not being afraid of Pombat bit. I've never met Pombat and the unknown frightens me.

Raised By Republicans said...

I also agree with Dr. Strangelove about quality vs quantity of parents. And about the extra-household socio-economic factors that hinder children's upbringing.

I suppose we could get all Marxist about it and say that what really matters is the household income. A solid economic determinist like Marx might argue: One parent making more than the median household income and living in a good school district is giving his or her children a big advantage even over children from more traditionally structured families on welfare in a struggling school district. ... well, an orthodox Marxist would say that family structure is a product of the economy anyway.

Lauri said...

I am a "single mother by choice". Well, that's what many in the community define themselves as anyway. I'm 36 now and last year I had my son via anon donor insemination. I was 35 at the time and the clock was ticking. There was no mate then on the horizon so yeah, I took matters into my own hands so to speak and made happen (having a child) what I wanted to happen. I have a good job, own my house, and have a ton of family support. I did not want to miss the opportunity to have a child just because Mr. Right or even Mr. Right Now had not come along within my childbearing window of opportunity.

My son will grow up, at a minimum, with plenty of men in his life. His grandpa, his uncles, and other male role models.

Ironically, as soon as the pressure was off with dating (which I never really did in the sense of bars, online sites, etc) along came a great guy I had known for a while from an activity we both mutually enjoy (disc golf) who I may end up marrying. Or not. In a year, he may be the essential male caregiver in my son's life. Or he may not. There are no guarantees in life -- as there are no guarantees that had I had a child with a mate, that he would still be around to father him.

USwest said...

Match making systems all have their strengths and weaknesses. I think the problem is more your other point, LTG, that people have lost sight of what good relationships are and what they take. We need a reality check. We need to be less judgmental and more patient of others. (I really work on this hard) But also so many people are so damaged that their personal deficiencies and issues prevent them from having healthy relationships. That is where the real social problem is. Why are we creating such unhappy, unbalanced people? Then again, that too may be a California thing.

Everyone just needs to chill out, quit navel gazing, and take things less seriously.

My sister had her first and only child at the age of 37. She is single and the father has had a tangential, primarily financial role. He has paid the same child support for 17 years and carried my niece on medical insurance. My sister never asked for a penny more. Emotionally, he has not been a part of his daughter's life.

But my sister's emotional state changed for the better after having my niece. She calmed down, focused, and felt happier having something more in her life besides us. She has been a great mom. She has had a lot of support from all of us. And my niece, who is getting ready for college now, is an awesome young lady, bright, sharp, and physically and emotionally healthy. And we can't imagine not having her around. We are all proud of her. She was our community project. She hasn't had a lot of men around. She was closest to my dad died who died when she was 9. But she had soccer coaches and male friends that have filled that role. And their support and praise of her has helped to build her into a confident person. Sports made all the difference for her.

My sister gets sad sometimes that she can't afford to do all the things that she'd like for her daughter. But that is every parent coupled or not. And if you ask me, my sister has done an hell of a lot for my niece and she wants for nothing and knows how to work for what she does want. Giving everything to a child is a bad idea.

Now am I prepared to do the same thing? no. Because I don't live near enough to my help network. Because I am too busy enjoying my life as it is. But that doesn't mean I won't change my mind someday. And that is my prerogative.
I say to Lauri, you go girl!

Dr. Strangelove said...

My husband and I are thinking about adopting children sometime. Neither of us feels ready now, but both of us hope to be ready a few years down the line. So these discussions interest me a lot. Many thanks to LTG, Lauri, and USWest for sharing their personal experiences related to this topic.

One question I wanted to ask you all, if you could: could you explain why (or why not) you want(ed) to have children? Is it that you love children so much you want to have one of your own? Is it a hormonal thing? Is it a moral duty to the next generation, or to god? Is it an obligation to your family? Is it a sense of adventure to travel a new avenue in life? Is it a desire for social advancement in the community? Is it to ensure someone will be there to look after you in your old age? Is it an abiding desire to change diapers or cope with an adolescent in close quarters? Or what?

Every parent I have ever spoken to about this gets that misty look in their eyes and says that they truly love being a parent, and despite all the work and responsibility, parenting has changed their life in a hundred wonderful ways that non-parents will never understand. But I am unsure of the testimonials of those who already have irrevocable buy-in. After all, one hears similar accounts from Scientologists :-)

The Law Talking Guy said...

I feel like nobody bothers to read what I write. I am not expressing fears about the American family. That's not the issue here. You all convinced me last time around that I was in error about the relative value of trying at least to start each child off with a two-parent/two-gender family.

That's why I keep talking demographics here. I amazed that none of you even seems to acknowledge a fundamental change in modal American family life might be more than just a statistical curiosity.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Dr.S - here's the truth. The biggest reason is - Despite this being a very politically incorrect notion - I basically felt that being a parent was part of the cycle of the human organism, and it wasn't something I wanted to miss out on. I can hear the wailing and screaming about single people being fulfilled and happy all their lives, yadda yada, but that wasn't my feeling about it. It just seemed to be what one ought to do as an adult who had, in his mid -30s, finally outgrown most of adolescence.

Also, I look to old age and think that I should like to be surrounded by my own family in those years. Old people with good grandchild relationships seem to be both fulfilled and healthy in a a way I would like.

I wasn't much motivated by the desire to be "a daddy" or any general love of kids. Personal fulfillment in that sense wasn't the issue. I didn't really like any kids much until I had one - now I kind of like all of them.

One of the most satisfying things about being a parent, beyond having this amazing creature call me "Da" and look at me with unlimited affection, is that my position in the world has changed. Being a young (or rather new) father is very much honored, as is young motherhood.

Lauri said...

I like this -- "I basically felt that being a parent was part of the cycle of the human organism, and it wasn't something I wanted to miss out on." That's definitely part of it for me. Add some hormones in there, along with knowing that I really do enjoy spending time with children. There was definitely a drive in me for many years to be with children, to spend time with them, nurture them. It's even part of why I left California to move to Arkansas -- at the time to be closer to my family.

I did read what you said, LTG. There is a shift in the demographics. And I don't really know what the men in that last segment you mentioned are doing, if anything.

If I had been living the same or similar life I am now and had reached 36/37 unmarried and never having been married...I would have just been a spinster decades ago, as would have the other women like me. I don't know that the men are doing anything different. What's changing is that the women who aren't married or in a relationship that can create the children "naturally" are making different choices with the available technology/adoption/etc. So what are the men doing? The same thing that unmarried men have always done -- be bachelors? I don't know.

Raised By Republicans said...

For me, I don't feel a biological imperative to procreate. Perhaps part of that is because men don't have as strict a biological clock as women do. I have no interest in raising a child on my own unless through the natural unfolding of events (such as death or departure of the hypothetical mother of my child) it ends up happening. But I do not feel the need to go out and find a woman - any woman - who will bear my child and help me raise it.

I'm more focused on finding a woman to have a long term relationship with first. If kids are a consequence of that, great. But I wouldn't leave a woman I otherwise loved if she didn't want kids nor would I stay with a woman I didn't love (or who didn't love me) just to have them.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR's comment reminds me that the un-remarked (but perhaps not unremarkable) part of the trend is that single motherhood by choice is definitely on the rise, but single fatherhood by choice probably remains, as always, nearly nonexistent.

Pombat said...

That's because the kind of guys who really want kids (enough to have them independently) get snapped up pretty quickly by women - most guys seem quite ambivalent about kids until they actually have them (maybe the biological urge is satisfied by 'sowing their wild oats' without actually sowing?).

As far as the demographic goes, Lauri's right - the men are doing whatever it is they've always done, it's just the women who are changing their behaviour and procreating when in another life they wouldn't've had the chance. We're still getting the same percentage of each gender, just a lot of them raised only by women. Which isn't that much different to a lot of 'typical' families we've seen in the past anyway, where the woman is the housewife, responsible for house and children, and the father is the career man, responsible for earning the money and laying down the law on the odd occasion he's actually at home.

The one thing I'm curious about with kids who've been conceived with the help of a donor is how do they ensure when they're older that they don't end up in a relationship with a half-sibling? Given that the numbers of donor-helped kids is increasing, and the number of donors isn't exactly overwhelming, this has got to start being an issue at some point, surely?

As far as the why of wanting kids? Not sure to be honest. I think it's probably just that I want my own family, a nice supportive happy family - I never really had that great a family - and I also don't want to get to the point in my life that I can't have them (naturally or via adoption) and realise that I regret it. I've sort of always wanted to have kids, but part of that when younger was bound to be because I thought that's how life went, maybe I'm just being unoriginal?!

I do find now though that I'm at the point where I'm getting selective about kids - when I spend time with friends with kids I find myself saying that yes, I'd like this one, no, I don't want one like that, my kids will all be angels all the time... :-)

ps RbR - I'm not scary, honest...

Lauri said...

Pombat, you raise an interesting point about half-children. There is a site called the Donor Sibling Registry. There, mothers of donor-conceived kids and those kids themselves can connect with other families, even if the donor was anonymous. Of course, not everyone uses it. Personally, I'm not interested whatsoever in finding my son's half-siblings out in the world.

Anyway, it's one tool. In addition, there are some protocols at the major banks regarding retiring a donor after so many pregnancies. But that can be 50 or more. I admit I don't know enough about that to be more specific.

It's an interesting dilemma..

Anonymous said...

I don't have a good answer for why I had a kid. It just felt like the right decision to make - but it wasn't something I had wanted for years and years. If anything, I felt like I wanted to hold off until I was really sure that I wanted to try and have one.

Part of it is my age - I'm 32, which is probably old for Provo but practically child-bride status here in the big city. I also feel very strongly that I don't want to have another kid that is very close in age to Law Talking Baby. Part of it is that my sister and I were 3 years apart (a popular "spacing") but fought like cats and dogs for the first decade of her life.

But a bigger part of it is that I want Law Talking Baby to be able to talk, out of diapers, able to follow simple directions, and willing to amuse herself for a few minutes. I'm aware that there are potential issues being older, but a lot of those statistics are overstated (to say the least) and misleading. And I'm an optimist.

-Seventh Sister

Pombat said...

Re 'spacing' of kids, it's a tricky one isn't it? I've heard arguments both ways around - close together means that you get all the baby stuff, sleeplessness, diaper chaos etc all out the way quickly, also possibly meaning less disruption to the mum's career (because kids will be getting to school within not too long of each other, although if she goes back to work after the first, there'll be another maternity leave disruption soon after); spaced apart a bit more means the older one can occupy themselves, are a bit more directable etc (as Seventh Sister mentions).

Raised By Republicans said...

"I don't have a good answer for why I had a kid." I have some friends who know exactly the answer to that question..."You see, we were stranded by the flood waters and we couldn't get into work and, well..."

But seriously, I think they were kidding - mostly.

Pombat said...

Isn't there a small spike in births around the end of August / start of September every year...?

Lauri said...

September statistically has more births than any other month.