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Single motherhood may occur for a variety of reasons. It could be opted for by the parent (as in divorce, adoption, artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, or extramarital pregnancy), or be the result of an unforeseeable occurrence (such as death or abandonment by one parent).
In the United States, 72.6% of single parents are mothers. Among this percentage of single mothers: 45% of single mothers are currently divorced or separated, 1.7% are widowed, 34% of single mothers never have been married.
The prevalence of single mothers as primary caregiver is a part of traditional parenting trends between mothers and fathers. In her work Marriages & Families Nijole V. Benokraitis, Ph.D. in sociology and conducted research with marriage and family and gender roles, defines mothers as the expressive role players, who provide the emotional support and nurturing that sustain the family unit. Because of this, she argues, mothers outshine fathers who tend to be stricter and more distant. She goes on to express that one of a woman's expressive roles is that of kin-keeper, an important communication link among family members. Children tend to drift towards preference of parent depending on how involved a particular parent is, and a common problem in society today are absentee fathers; therefore, children are more likely to show preference for their mothers, as they are more involved with them than the fathers.
Cultural definition of a mother's role also contribute to the preference of mother as primary caregiver. Children will lean more towards mothers because of their protective, nurturing characteristics, from a long established mother-child relationship from early on attachment beginning at birth and continuing as the child grows up. In addition to their traditional protective and nurturing role, single mothers have to play the role of family provider as well; since men are the breadwinners of the traditional family, in the absence of the father the mother must fulfill this role whilst also providing adequate parentage. Because of this dual role, in the United States, 80% of single mothers are employed of which 50% are full-time workers and 30% are part-time. Many employed single mothers rely on childcare facilities to care for their children while they are away at work. Linked to the rising prevalence of single parenting is the increasing quality of healthcare, and there have been findings of positive developmental effects with modern childcare. It's not uncommon that the mother will become actively involved with the childcare program as to compensate for leaving her children under the care of others.. Working single mothers may also rely on the help from fictive kin, who provide for the children while the mother is at her job.
In the United States, 27% of single mothers live below the poverty line, as they lack the financial resources to support their children when the birth father is unresponsive. Although the public is sympathetic with low-wage single mothers, government benefits are fairly low. Many seek assistance through living with another adult, perhaps a relative, fictive kin, or significant other, and divorced mothers who re-marry have fewer financial struggles than unmarried single mothers, who cannot work for longer periods of time without shirking their child-caring responsibilities. Unmarried mothers are thus more likely to cohabit with another adult.
- Child custody
- Child visitation
- Custodial parent
- Family structure
- Father absence
- Fathers' rights
- Marital status
- Never married
- Noncustodial parent
- Parental absence
- Single fathers
- Tender years doctrine
- Working women
- Susan (October 13, 2012), Single Mother Statistics, Single Mother Guide, http://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics/
- America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2011 – Table FG10. Family Groups: 2011, United States Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2011.html, retrieved on 8 November 2012
- Single-Parent Families - Demographic Trends. Marriage and Family Encyclopedia. Net Industries and its Licensors. URL accessed on 1 October 2011.
- What Do Single Parent Statistics Tell Us?. Single Parent Center. URL accessed on 7 December 2011.
- Benokraitis, Nijole V. Background. URL accessed on 7 December 2011.
- Benokraitis, Nijole (2012, 2011, 2008). Marriages & Families: Changes, Choices and Constraints, 121 and 431, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- Nimkoff, Meyer F. (1942). The Child's Preference for Father or Mother. American Sociological Review: 517–524.
- Dowd, Nancy E. (1997). In Defense of Single-Parent Families, New York: New York University Press.
- (2004) "Working Mothers" Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, American Academy of Pediatrics. URL accessed 23 October 2011.
- Neckerman, Kathryn M. (2004). Social Inequality, 8, New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.