Recent census data indicates that the rate of single motherhood is increasing among non-married career women in their thirties and forties, while the rate of teenage pregnancy is decreasing. Older women are choosing motherhood after divorce or failure to find a marital partner, upon realizing that these factors mean they might never fulfill the two-parent family idea. Realizing that their fertility will not last forever, these women subverted the traditional norm of marriage and motherhood and declared their right to become parents, notwithstanding their single status.
Women's greater economic independence, as a result of the liberal feminist movement, has enabled many to embrace a libertarian feminist view of motherhood grounded in perceptions of their maturity, financial capability and freedom of choice. Nonetheless, federal and state policies continue to treat single mothers as irresponsible young women on the verge of becoming public charges. Self-supporting single mothers, however, have subverted this image, insisting that they are responsible enough to support a family.
This paper will first discuss the history of motherhood in America and the status of single mothers in American culture. It then addresses contemporary trends in government policy that affect single mothers. Finally, policy recommendations in birth registration policies, social services law, and tax law will be offered.
Over the past thirty years, new developments in American culture and society have contributed to changing family patterns. Divorce rates have increased, many Americans remain single longer, others never marry and still others raise children alone. Scholars have addressed the rise of single parenthood among non-married women, focusing their attention on teenagers. Within the realm of social policy, this focus has led to attempts to lower the numbers of single mothers on public assistance because teenage pregnancy is perceived to be at the root of welfare dependence.
Current trends indicate, however, that there is a growing population of single mothers whose existence is hidden by this focus on teenage mothers. As teenagers' births decrease, births are on the rise amongst older single women.1 Within this group are those who call themselves "single mothers by choice," women who have chosen motherhood when the traditional option of marriage and family seemed impossible.2 Contrary to the teenage single mother, many older single mothers spent years furthering their education and establishing a firm economic foundation. Childbearing and marriage might not have been their greatest priority in their younger days. Others might have married when they were younger, only to divorce later, with no children resulting from the marriage. As older women, their professional security enabled their decision to become mothers. Although adoption is an option for many single mothers, this paper focuses upon single mother pregnancy.
Many women who are choosing single motherhood in middle age experienced the feminist movement of the 1970s. If they were too young to be active participants, they were aware of it, nonetheless. All benefited from the wave of feminism spearheaded by white American women. The revival of the feminist movement in the 1970s had its roots in the 1960s era New Left and in the African American civil rights movement. Liberal feminists, the adherents of this revived movement, sought to gain full equality for women under the law, removing the proscriptions that forced them into subservience, including the cultural perceptions that denied women autonomy and the opportunity for professional achievement routinely experienced by men.3
From the standpoint of feminist theory, how does one explain the shift to maternity? Is the call to motherhood an awakening to cultural feminism, the perception that there is a special aspect of women's culture and identity-motherhood-of which liberal feminists feared losing? …