Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Diversity in patterns of parenting and household formation

Carolyn Baylies

The percentage of single female-parent homes is featured in a table entitled ‘weakening social fabric’ in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 1994, alongside such other measures of presumed social dissolution as intentional homicides by men, asylum applications received, and juveniles as percentage of total prisoners. Data in the table refer exclusively to industrial countries and the column on single female-parent homes only to OECD countries. 1 While this reflects the dearth of comparable statistics cross-nationally on such measures, the fact that data on households headed by women should be placed under this title at all suggests some curious presumptions about the directions of social change and the nature of idealized norms. Such presumptions, however, belie a diversity of experience, the dimensions of which will be explored in this chapter.

In the UK, the proportion of all families with dependent children headed by a lone parent rose from 8.6 per cent in 1971 to 19.2 per cent in 1991, with the parent being female in nine cases out often (Haskey 1994:7). 2 There are some who see these figures as very much a measure not just of the weakening but of the renting of social fabric, with particular concern being expressed over those regarded as flaunting an aberrant status and scrounging off the state. State policy providing support for lone parents has been criticized as misconceived, far too generous and as contributing both to a decline in marriage and the creation of a ‘warrior class’ among youth practising predatory sexual behaviour (Guardian, 3 January 1995). 3

Anxiety over increases in lone-parent families, involving not just an appeal against what is believed to be misconceived policy but also worry over a more general post-industrial malaise as the dominance of the nuclear family is perceived to be slipping away, is frequently

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