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The number of single mothers who never married has exploded

The number of single mothers who never married has exploded

PTs, OTs and SLPs are among the middle class professions where the percentage of full-time single mothers has grown dramatically over the last 20 years.  The financial and time pressures that a single parent faces  has been widely documented    (APA singleparents).   While a high divorce rate has been a fact of American life for several decades, a much newer phenomenon is single mothers who never married.   A recent Pew study showed that in 1960, only 4% of single mothers had never been married.   By 2011, that percentage had jumped to 44% of single mothers (PEW nevermarried)!   These never married moms are hard to characterize as a group other than the fact that they tend to be young—66% of these children are born to never married mothers under the age of 30.  They are racially and educationally diverse.  Two thirds of them are white, 25% have a college degree, and one sixth of them never completed high school.   These statistics fly in the face of the stereotype that this increase is based n increasing numbers of men in low income who have no intention of taking any responsibility for their child(ren).   These woman range from the wealthy to the poor.  Based on the large numbers, it suggests single parenthood was the first choice  for these young women as to how they live their lives.

The dramatic rise in never married mothers has been the subject of considerable speculation.  Some posit that these women may have had traumatic experiences with their fathers or other men or experienced   terrible  parental relationship.  As a result, they view “go it alone” motherhood as the best route to happiness.  For them, the stresses of single motherhood seems less daunting than the risk of being trapped in a destructive, painful relationship.   Another factor may be that a higher percentage of men today are also not interested in long-term committed relationship.  The combined male and female contributions  means that the odds of two people meeting that both have marriage as a goal are considerably lower today than in prior generations.

Even though this appears to be an act of choice for many of these mothers, there is no doubt that this choice typically comes at a considerable price.  On average, single mothers earn incomes that are considerably lower than their married peers from a similar background.    In addition to not having a partner to help shoulder financial demands, there is no partner who can step in just when the tank is running on empty.  This is not to say that these impediments cannot be overcome–numerous studies suggest that children are capable of thriving in a single parent household with a loving and competent single mother who has a good support system.   It appears, however, that few people believe that parenting works out well for the children of these mothers most of the time.     A Pew Research poll (Pew2011) done just 4 years ago reports that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans think single mothers “are a bad thing for society.”

Whether mothers who never married are a bad thing for society or not, this trend is here to stay.    The allied health professions (especially occupational, physical, and speech therapy) have been attracting many single mothers because:

  • These fields are not male dominated
  • These jobs remain strong even during recessions.  Financial stability is crucial for a single parent.
  • Special education jobs in the schools afford an ideal work and vacation schedule for them.
  • Hospital jobs can afford the scheduling flexibility that a single mom may need.

Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.
Allied Health Professionals

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