One of the most dramatic and consequential of all human differences is between the minute or 2 it may take a hasty male to father a child and the 2 decades it takes someone who, statistically, is overwhelmingly likely to be female to raise it. For all of human history and prehistory - which is significant because it has influenced the human genome - this has generated the most demanding obligation of communities to children. Can the male be kept involved in the child-rearing, and if so, how? Social systems produce various solutions to the problem. A new pattern has recently developed in industrial societies. In a striking departure from traditional forms, approximately 1/3 of babies born are born to unmarried women. The result is a new kinship which can be called "bureaugamy," which involves a mother, child, and a civil servant supervising the transfer of resources.
Female Leaders and Political Interests
One of the most dramatic and consequential of all human differences is between the minute or two it may take a hasty male to father a child and the two decades it takes someone who, statistically, is overwhelmingly likely to be a female to raise it. For all of human history and prehistory-which is significant because it has influenced our genome-this has generated perhaps the most demanding obligation of communities to children. Can we keep the male involved in the enormous task of child-rearing, and if so, how?
Social systems produce various solutions to the problem. In some, the mother's brother is responsible for the resources and commitment to raise his sister's off-spring. In others, the maternal grandparents are responsible. In another pattern, both biological parents are legally and emotionally responsible. This has largely been the system in place, ideally, if not always in practice, in those industrial communities defined as "modern," which appear to function as conceptual models for societies beginning with different if also changing economic structures. In this scheme, the male is obligated to play his role through an elaborate series of social mechanisms, such as spontaneous parental love, the shotgun in the closet, the threat of family vendettas, or assurances of an eternity in bell for those who fail to do the right thing.
But a new pattern has recently developed in industrial societies. In a striking departure from traditional forms, approximately one-third of babies born are born to unmarried women. The number varies between countries, cities, and ethnic and religious groups, but the statistics are consistent. Depending on the structure of the local system of government, in some degree or another the state steps in.
The result is a new kinship system I call "bureaugamy." It involves a mother, a child, and a civil servant supervising the transfer of resources. Single motherhood is no longer an aberrant rarity or even a sign of feckless pathology or thoughtless sensuality. Given the widespread availability of reasonably effective and affordable contraception and ample information about sex and its consequences, the frequency of unmarried motherhood appears to reflect female reproductive strategy in conditions that do not promise the kinds of traditional maternal support previously noted. It is condescending and disrespectful to women to assume that they undertake a major endeavor such as pregnancy and motherhood for reasons of stupidity or inadvertence. Biologists tell us all animals have reproductive strategies, and there is a possibility that contemporary women in industrial society perceive that "going at it alone" may represent their best reproductive option amid the conditions in which they find themselves. Given how they evaluate their own lives, the economic realities and personal stability of possible mates, and the opportunities afforded to them by new social norms, their reproductive conclusion appears to be within the finite window of biological opportunity that they possess-single motherhood is a tolerable option. …