Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Which is more common: single moms or married homemakers? In the debate concerning sex, marriage and family, I'd like to avoid the extremes of folks who say on one side that the diversification of family life is to be celebrated and those on the other side who claim that traditional family life is dead and Armageddon looms. Big themes like this have to be addressed with data in pieces, so here's my first installment.

Using General Social Survey data (N = 1,872), I calculated the percentage of all white moms ages 20-45 in this decade who have a least one child who: 1) have never been married; or 2) are married homemakers. Which group do you think is larger? Out all of these moms, 11.4% are never-marrieds; 18.9% are married homemakers. When I was a undergraduate almost 20 years ago, I read that the number was close to 20%. It hasn't changed. The American family is becoming de-institutionalized: absent social pressures and economic incentives to conform to the traditional ideal, people are pursuing personal preferences. Behavior is now reflecting individual personalities more, so the future is likely to be a real mix of arrangements, but many people, like my wife who is a homemaker, will choose a traditional (and societally constructive) lifestyle because it suits them. Of course, I'd prefer to see a traditionalist revival, but I'm not that optimistic.


  1. I think many single moms are divorced, not never-married.

  2. I'd like to see the breakout by income and education. Seems to me, purely via observation, that most homemakers tend to be upper-middle-class; most married working moms are lower middle class (with a small spattering of super-high-powered elite professionals), and most single (never married) moms are from the lower middle class, working class, and outright poor.

    It is probably significant that the segment of the population who actually has a choice whether or not to work (middle class married women, whose husbands earn a good living) generally choose not to work. Most of the working moms I know do it simply to pay the bills; not out of any desire to be independent or fulfilled. The exception would be the very highly compensated professionals (lawyers, doctors, investment bankers) who can also afford nannies and housekeepers.

  3. Anonymous1:20 PM

    Lots of highly compensated ladies quit too. I would be willing to bet that the average stay at home mom is pretty bright because she is married to a man who has a job that will support a family. Higher paying jobs tend to require more smarts and people tend to marry someone near their own intelligence.

    A subset of those stay at home moms are homeschoolers whose average academic achievement on the Stanford test is the 85%tile. Intelligence being genetic, that points to some of the brighter bulbs in the box.


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