Single with children = poverty

A growing class of single mothers is raising kids in poverty, while women who put college and marriage before childbirth have time and money to invest in their children. That’s not really news, but the New York Times puts faces on the problem in Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do’.

Jessica Schairer dropped out of college to have three children with a man who rejected marriage and eventually abandoned her. She earns $25,000 working at a child care center run by Chris Faulkner, a college graduate with a husband and two children.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Unwed motherhood “is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class,” among women with some college but no degree. Meanwhile, married couples are having children later,  divorcing less and spending more time on parenting.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” (Princeton sociologist Sara) McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

Jessica Schairer wanted a husband and  “the house and the white picket fence,” and still does. She can’t explain why she stayed with an irresponsible man. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

While the Faulkner boys go on a Boy Scout camping trip with their father, Schairer’s son is watching TV in his bedroom while his exhausted mother collapses on the couch.

About Joanne


  1. palisadesk says:

    What about the issue that nowadays the job and income prospects for well-educated women are far better than in the past, while proportionately fewer males are graduating from college and entering the professions. Medicine, law, dentistry, even engineering and accountant programs are more heavily female-weighted than ever before. So how realistic is it for a bright young woman to expect to find a mate who will earn more than she does and support her while she stays home (or works part time) with the kids?

    Should we be training young men for a career as stay-at-home dads?

    I’m only half joking here. I know several couples where this is exactly what the husband has ended up doing, because his wife made much more money (and had a better benefits package) than he did. In every case the woman would have preferred to stay home but the family would have been in extremely straightened circumstances subsisting on the husband’s income.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Maybe Jessica should have “just said no” or at least used birth control. We are raising these girls with little sense and no instinct for self preservation. Throught history, it has been the prime directive so to speak for a woman to find a man who would make a suitable husband, especially if one desires a family and all the trappings.

    Jessica has not only hurt heself, she acted without regard to the children she chose to bring into the world.

    • dangermom says:

      As Kay Hymowitz said in her excellent book on this subject,* there is nothing more natural than a girl having a baby. The snag is that we live in a highly un-natural society, and prosperity requires a complex set of learned habits. In the past, girls got pregnant all the time too, but there was social pressure for a father to marry and maintain the family (unless he was wealthy enough to pension the girl off).

      *Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal in a Post-Marital Age

      • SuperSub says:

        What’s also natural is for male-female bonding where the male has an interest in supporting his offspring.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        Ridiculously awful levels of poverty are also “natural.”

        Wealth is entirely a creature of artifice, in the non-negative sense.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Why buy a cow…?

  4. SuperSub says:

    Hey, all we need to fix this situation is a federal government agency to assess a tax, ummm, I mean a penalty, to all adults who are not currently supporting children, whether they choose to have children or not. Using that money, the government could hire individuals to provide child care to single mothers.

  5. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Kids are hard work. If you’re an absentee dad, you can swing by, take them out, get their adoration, then drop them off and let someone else deal with the vomit.

    The real question is, barring a sense of religious obligation, why would any man get married?

    • Elizabeth says:

      If we as a society have degernerated that far, then people should be spayed/neutered.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Of course, the kids who DO have married dads are the offspring of men who value commitment, hard work, and delayed gratification. So, is it that single parenting makes people poor, or that the sort of people who tend to end up as unwed parents also have other traits that set them apart from their married peer–traits that they pass on to their kids, which keep the kids in poverty?

      My inclination, as a Catholic, is to say, no, marriage changes people. But from a secular perspective, how do you prove that there’s not some key difference between people who do things in the right order (graduate HS, Marry, kids) as opposed to the wrong order, other than a couple of bad choices?

      • Elizabeth says:

        For people who grow up in communities where single parenthood is the norm – I feel really sorry for them because unless they are devoted church members, they are not taught this nor do they see examples.

        For the white working class who grew up around a sizeable percentage of two-parent homes, this is harder to fathom. I think a lot of parents have given up on teaching values, boundaries and self-control. They are afraid of alienating their kids or making them “unpopular” or making (heaven forbid) value judgements so they let the little darlings run on full speed Id (as in Id, Ego, Superego).

      • Sean Mays says:

        We’ve gone far beyond that point Elizabeth – we REWARD poor decision making by young girls and vilify women for waiting and having or starting a career; thus acquiring the necessary social capital to minimize their dependence on men. Of COURSE we should have Medicade and WIC and so on; but how DARE you ask for reproductive therapies to be covered by health care; you let your eggs get old; it was your choice. Heaven forbid you’re an older parent with an autistic child; DOUBLY your fault. Sigh. The government isn’t really set up to support families well either; with all the crazy rules for child care credits and the like.

        • Elizabeth says:

          I think one of the problems is that many teens live in a pseudo-adult world because companies target their marketing to them and parental discipline is non-existent. For these pseudo sophistocates, the looming adult world where they are no longer the little kings/queens – they will have to work at entry level jobs and gasp! take and follow orders from adults scares them. Procreating at least puts the focus back on them for a short while, and proves they are all grown up without having to go through the normal milestones of maturity.

  6. Stacy in NJ says:

    You get more of what you subsidize. Stop subsidizing it.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    We as a society have, for about fifty years, laughed at and scorned those who suggested waiting to have sex until marriage. Pre-marital sex is nearly mandatory for those who wish to be considered at least “normal” among their peers.
    Waiting is considered foolish and nearly insane. It’s only those nasty fundy bluenoses who want you to wait.
    ‘course, then the nasty fundy bluenoses can be counted upon to earn enough to be taxed to support the folks who didn’t wait.

  8. It is hard to see how getting married to either of the men in her life would have improved Jessica’s financial situation. Her main problem seems to have been the trouble she had getting rid of them.

    I have a problem with those who think that if that if everyone got a college degree, then poverty would magically disappear. In our society, people who work in nursing homes, scrub floors, or harvest crops live in poverty. If everyone in the country had a college degree, these low paying jobs wouldn’t cease to exist, they would just be filled by somebody with a college degree.

    • If everyone in the USA had a college degree, all the floor-scrubbing jobs might be done by Scoobas the way that essentially all grain harvesting has been done mechanically for the last century.

  9. Jessica’s ex up and left 3 children, and pays no child support, and we’re criticizing Jessica who kept the kids and is trying to raise them? Give me a break! I think she’s punished enough by her life in poverty and the stress of being a single parent. Do we need to punish her retroactively for having sex with her ex?

    Where’s the outrage for that guy? We’re not subsidizing Jessica; were subsidizing his child free lifestyle since jessicas govt benefits are what Allow his kids to survive without him needing to pay a penny!!!!

    • Do we need to punish her retroactively for having sex with her ex?Where’s the outrage for that guy?

      Criticizing him is racist.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      He need not pay a penny because the government hasn’t tackled him and garnished his wages, if any. Or his assistance, if that’s they way it works.
      If he had money, he probably wouldn’t pay anything.
      As to “punish”. That’s garbage. It’s a way of discrediting quite rational observations such as, if she’d not had sex with this guy, she’d be in a different situation.
      It’s possible to criticize Jessica for getting herself in this situation without criticizing her attempts to make the best of it. Conflating the two is a transparently manipulative tactic.
      Engineer–poet is correct. Criticizing this guy is cultural and racial chauvinism. And repressed sexual envy. And stuff.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    The article states that she, the kids and the now gone boyfriend altenated living with his/her parents until she was 25. So, basically, neither one of them had the experience of putting a roof over their heads and food in their mouths prior to reproducing.