Thursday, October 17, 2002
Unmarried moms on the rise
A story published today by the Boston Globe reports that ten years after Vice President Dan Quayle castigated the TV sitcom character Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock, single motherhood among 30-something professionals has lost much of its social stigma.
Unlike actress Candice Bergen's character, who accidentally got pregnant and decided to keep the baby, these women use a method that purposely keeps them from being attached to the father of their child. They buy anonymously donated sperm, for $150 a dose.
Now, as single motherhood among teens continues to plummet, the number of US births to single moms age 35 to 39 reached a historic high in 2000, the last year statistics were available from the National Center for Health Statistics. And though the number is small - 64,523 - it's a six-fold leap from 1965 and all bets are it will continue to climb, demographers say.
The numbers may be driven partly by the rapid growth in the number of older unmarried women. From 1990 to 2000, the ranks of women between the ages of 35 and 39 increased from 1 million to 1.6 million. And once a woman passes the threshold of 35, the increasing reality that they may never marry has pushed a generation of single women to consider what used to be unthinkable: getting pregnant intentionally.
Not only is getting ''pregnant on purpose'' becoming more accepted in American society, sociologists say, there's a growing chorus of voices urging unmarried women to take that plunge before it's too late.
''The roles are changing,'' said Jane Bock, a former sociologist who first studied the issue 20 years ago with women who struggled with employers, day care centers, and even sperm banks, many of which denied unmarried women access to purchase donor sperm. ''They have altered the way we look at this issue because they've been successful as single mothers. They are legitimizing single parenthood as an appropriate life choice.''
But even if single mothers have plenty of money, live in safe neighborhoods, and send their children to the best schools, critics say that their children are shortchanged if they don't have one essential thing: A father.
''There are still people who are going to say you need a father. Whether or not that is true is another matter,'' said Frances J. Mather, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at Tulane University in Louisiana. She said some researchers believe that if a child has a father figure, someone who is close to the child, that may be enough.
''Part of the reason for the increase is that there are a lot more unmarried women,'' said Stephanie Ventura, director of the vital statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Just 9 percent of women aged 30 to 34 were unmarried in 1965, a percentage that more than tripled by 2000, to 32 percent, Ventura said. The ratio is similar for women in the next age bracket, 35 to 39. While the birth rate is up for all age groups, except teenagers, it's growing at a faster rate for unmarried mothers. Today, a third of all babies are born to unwed women.