The researchers found that unmarried couples have a higher break up rate, leading to "'multi-partner fertility. ...This kind of family instability ... can be tough on both finances and on kids and leads to a calcification of social inequity.'" In spite of these negatives, the Time article reports that while their kids may lack in financial advantages, they are no less happy than kids in two parents families.
Their happiness doesn't spare these children and their parents from the scourging pen of conservatives like George Will who point to this "illegitimacy rate" and attribute the immorality of young women as the cause of societal dysfunction (conveniently ignoring countries like Iraq and Nigeria which have extremely strong rules on the sexual behavior of women but have erupted in chaos.)
STILL THE STAIN OF ILLEGITIMACY
A more likely cause of single parenthood is lack of resources for many young women. The rate is higher for women without a college degree (74 percent) than for mothers with a college degree (29 percent) which suggests that women in affluent families who can afford college are more likely to postpone child-bearing. And of course once single women have kids, college with its promise of a higher income may be unattainable at least for a while. Conservatives--and many liberals for that matter--encourage single mothers to place their babies with "stable two-parent families" so that their children can avoid falling into the "trap their mothers are in." Ironically, one reason for adoption is the demand for infants by women who put off child-bearing in order to pursue college and a career until it is too late.
While it's not stated directly as much these days, avoiding the stigma of illegitimacy is another benefit of giving a child to the touted stable two parent family. In our patriarchal society it's just not right to have a baby without the sanction (in the form of marriage) of a man. A live-in partner (which about a third of single mothers have) is better than no man in the house but not as good as a husband. Adoption and the accompanying amended birth certificate listing the adoptive parents as the parents cleans the child of the disability of bastardy--born out of wedlock.
"Bastard" is a mild epithet. Call someone a "bastard," and your are calling someone out for bad behavior--someone who cheats and steals, who is mean to his mother and cats, who you should not do business with. Adoptees refer to themselves self-mockingly as bastards. An adoptee activist organization refers to the original meaning of the word and calls itself Bastard Nation, just as Queer Nation did before pretty much everybody stopped using the word. We haven't actually heard anyone refer to the child of an unmarried mother as a "bastard" for decades.
NOT EQUAL TO LEGAL HEIRS
Yet when I hear adoptees use the term, there's pain in their voices. They know "bastards" are not equal to legitimate "heirs." While this is shedding this meaning, their illegitimate birth still has a taint in some social strata. Though this is from centuries ago, listen to Edmund, the bastard son, wail in Shakepeare's King Lear:
"Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue....
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"
Act I, Scene ii
All this came to my mind upon reading a recent article in the New Yorker about the British actor Alec Guinness whose centenary was on April 2. My mother was a great fan of Guinness and, as a young child, I accompanied her to the local art house theater and saw Guinness in The Mudlark, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and other films. He starred in The Bridge on the River Kwai for which he won an Academy Award. Younger readers will remember him as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.
"His life had begun with a blank, the space for his father's names left unfilled on his birth certificate." The UK as many U.S. states do, prohibited putting a father's name on a birth certificate unless the mother was married to him or the father signed a a sworn statement that his was in fact the father. According to The New Yorker, Guinness never learned who his father was.
Being born to a single mother has not stopped many; in addition to Guinness, the list of prominent bastards includes Leonardo DaVinci, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, T. E. Lawrence, Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, and Ethel Waters. The last three should give George Will and his fellow conservatives some pause. Will attributes the lack of progress of the black community on the fact that 72 percent of African-American children are born to single mothers. "That, and not an absence of rights, is surely the biggest impediment." Or as the Wonkette satirically paraphrased Will: "Black ladies are birthin' too many babies without a man in the hizzouse....Big problems in the black community? Blame the sluts and the feckless young bucks who get them pregnant and leave."
Will and other conservatives have it backwards: lack of economic opportunity and--in the case of African Americans and Hispanics--racism result in women having children before marriage. Making college more affordable, and thus more available, would reduce early child-bearing. At least today, births outside of marriage do not carry with it the same stigma of illegitimacy as in decades past. Times are a changin.'--jane
More Millennial Mothers Are Single Than Married
Adoption Has Become a Conservative Sacred Cow
The New Yorker Smart Alec
6 Famous Bastards Who Made Their Mark
ABC: George Will: Single moms for dangerous for minorities than a lack of rights
Wonkette: George Will Explains How Single moms Make Martin Luther King Jr. Cry
Kids With One Parent Are Just as Happy as Kids With Two
Father's Names on Birth Certificates: More Artifice than Fact
Of Sluts and Bastards: A Feminist Decodes the Child Welfare Debate
by Louise Armstrong
"Louise Armstrong has exposed the dark underside of Child Welfare in this country. This is not a 'feminist' book in any narrow definition of that term; rather this is a book for any American who believes our children deserve our best. Armstrong details nothing less than an evil conspiracy. Federal mechanisms for funding, the courts and state bureaucrats have conspired to make the public believe that the nation's most tragic victims--abused children--are in good hands. Then the three branches of government then play the parts of those legendary monkeys--see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil. The concerned volunteer or interested citizen will be appalled at the stories Armstrong tells. They are heartbreaking stories that ring all too true for those of us who have worked or volunteered in the child welfare field. Those who are looking for an easy scapegoat, however, will be disappointed. The child welfare system in this nation is accountable to no one, and even though some of our nation's heroes work here every day, many - perhaps most - of the children are poorly served, even harmed."--review at Amazon.
Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade
by Rickie Solinger
"In a thorough and important, if often tiresomely repetitive, study, Solinger (Women's Studies/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) dissects the politics of female fertility in America from 1945-65, when the strikingly different treatments of middle-class white and poor black pregnant teenagers clearly reflected the demands of a racist, family-centered economy. Before WW II, Solinger reports, unwed mothers in the US were considered the products of defective, amoral environments-- permanent outcasts for whom no kind of rehabilitation was possible. After the war, she argues, a perceived societal need to produce as many white children in ``healthy'' male-headed families as possible, combined with new Freudian psychological theories and racist sociological assumptions concerning black sexuality, engendered a dualistic treatment of unwed pregnant women depending on the color of their skin. Whereas the ``market value'' of white babies enabled and even encouraged white single mothers to ``sacrifice'' their offspring for adoption in exchange for a second chance at respectability (usually after exile in a maternity home), ``unmarketable'' illegitimate black babies were considered the inevitable product of the ``natural'' black libido and were therefore left to be raised by their mothers, who were in turn treated as incorrigible breeders who gave birth to win more government benefits. With the ``sexual revolution'' (for whites) and ``population bomb'' (for blacks) of the late 60's and early 70's came the technological fixes of birth control and legalized abortion--though these steps toward female self-determination for women of all races were more a result, Solinger claims, of a slump in the white baby market and fear of black overpopulation than of societal concern for the fate of single mothers. Revelatory but regrettably dry work with repercussions for today."--Kirkus Associates
Given how she writes about us, it is strange how she brushes us aside and puts us down in person. --lo