Abused, Poor Women Often Shun Marriage

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Poor women who experience sexual or physical abuse, especially during childhood, often find it difficult to marry or form long-term relationships with men, says a study that urges policy-makers not to overlook domestic violence when they talk about promoting marriage.

"If we are concerned about the decline in stable, long-term unions among the poor and near-poor, then we may need to consider measures that would directly reduce the levels of physical and sexual abuse that women bear," said Johns Hopkins University professor Andrew J. Cherlin, co-author of the study, which appears in today's American Sociological Review.

The timing of a woman's abuse seems to affect her romantic patterns, said the researchers, who surveyed about 2,400 poor mothers and conducted in-depth interviews with 256 poor families.

Women who were abused as children were most likely to have "transitory" relationships - essentially, a parade of boyfriends moving through their lives.

In contrast, women abused as adults often shut down emotionally and avoided romantic entanglements with men altogether.

The result was that few poor women married: Of the 2,400 mothers surveyed, about 14 percent were married and living with their husbands. About 12 percent were married but separated, 6 percent were cohabiting, and 69 percent were single and unattached. Three-quarters of the mothers surveyed were in their 20s and 30s.

Sexual and physical abuse is "widespread" among poor women, and policy-makers are well-advised not to gloss over these problems when they talk about promoting stable family relationships, the researchers said. …