Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Book Reviews -- Mother-Headed Families and Why They Have Increased by Ailsa Burns and Cath Scott

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Book Reviews -- Mother-Headed Families and Why They Have Increased by Ailsa Burns and Cath Scott

Article excerpt

Mother-Headed Families and Why They Have Increased. Ailsa Burns & Cath Scott. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1994. 217 pp. ISBN 0-8058-1440-X. $49.95 cloth.

Scholars have studied mother-headed families in e United States intensively now for several decades. Most U.S. researchers are aware that mother-headed families have increased in other countries too. But because much of this research is found in journals or books published by foreign presses, many of us do not keep up with this literature and incorporate it into our thinking as often as we should.

Ailsa Burns and Cath Scott, from Macquarie University in Australia, have put together a volume that describes and explains the prevalence of mother-headed families in world perspective. Accordingly, they summarize information from a variety of countries, including Australia, England, France, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union, as well as the United States. Besides taking an international perspective, they adopt a historical view and show how mother headed families have waxed and waned over time in many of these countries.

Most of the book focuses on variations in divorce (one chapter) and nonmarital births (three chapters). However, the authors also address the social status of single mothers. For this reason, they include a chapter dealing with widows, based mainly on historical and non-Western material. In the last two chapters, the authors present four broad theoretical perspective that might account for the general increase in divorce and nonmarital births: biosocial theories, demographic theories, feminist theories, and decomplementary theories. The last category (preferred by the authors) refers to perspectives that stress that mother-headed families are more common when women and men are less dependent on each other, that is, when their social roles are not complementary. …

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