May 31 2013
Mona Charen shifts through Pew Research’s much talked-about “Breadwinner Moms” survey and puts her finger on what is so disturbing about the findings: many of these breadwinner moms are single parents by choice.
Much commentary on the study was devoted to the news that many wives out-earn their husbands, which Mona says maybe of “interest to Sheryl Sandberg and some of her colleagues, but it’s not an urgent concern for society.” But the dramatic increase in households headed by single mothers is an urgent concern for society. Charen writes:
They’re always lauded, those single moms. Politicians of both parties always append the word “heroic” to them. But the profile of single mothers has changed dramatically since 1960 when only 4 percent were “never married.” In previous decades, women became single mothers through divorce, desertion, or death. In 2011, 44 percent of single moms were never married.
Hillary Clinton said that “it takes a village” to raise children—but what it really takes is a two-parent household. Families can sort out internally whether the mother works outside the home fulltime or part time or not at all. The lousy economy affects these decisions but healthy families can handle them.
What’s alarming is the “ever-swelling population of women who don’t have the luxury of part-time work because they chose to bear and raise children alone.” Only 42 percent of those in the 18-29 age group think that opting to have a child without marriage is problematical. Seventy-four percent of those aged fifty and above don’t approve.
If I were the judgmental sort, I’d call this a moral decline.
Some liberals, like President Obama, pay lip service to the importance of fathers. “I was raised by a heroic single mother,” he told Morehouse graduates, “but I still wish I had a father who was not only present but involved.” That’s helpful, but liberalism has been the consistent cheerleader for burying the old stigmas that kept families intact. Liberals don’t mind if you want to have an intact family, but they bristle at the notion that you might recommend it for everyone. Katie Roiphe, for example, delights in the fact that 53 percent of the babies born to women under 30 are illegitimate. “If there is anything that currently oppresses the children,” she wrote recently in the New York Times, “it is the idea of the way families are ‘supposed to be.’”
Roiphe is partially right — ideas can be oppressive. Liberal ideas are undermining marriage and condemning millions of children to unnecessary poverty, instability, and unhappiness.
W. Bradford Wilcox of U-Va., has a similar take:
The growing number of breadwinner moms has partly been fueled by our nation’s incorporation of bright and capable women into the workforce, which is all to the good. But the rise of breadwinner moms has also been fueled by surging rates of nonmarital childbearing, single motherhood, and male unemployment. These trends look more like the familial ingredients of an American dystopia, not an androgynous utopia. Perhaps this is why the public is so conflicted about the rise of breadwinner moms.