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Single Mothers vs. Married Mothers in the USA

The essence of motherhood is truly versatile, which is represented not only in blissful life changes brought with parenthood, but also in the complexity of challenges that such a responsible activity as raising a child is beset by. For single and married mothers the basis for contrasting features lies in the degree of their parental investment, financial well-being, and employment rates. Struggling to satisfy the need of economic stability, single mothers tend to neglect proper application of parenting capacity. Married mothers have bigger chances of satisfying all the required needs. Due to financial difficulties and time dearth, the state of health of single mothers and their children is worse than that of married mothers. On the other hand, both single and married mothers undergo similar life alternations, such as experiencing changes in psychological states caused by the adjustments they have to make to satisfy the needs of their family, introducing adaptations to the work schedule and time allocations in the labor market.

Financial well-being and labor participation force are obvious corner stones in the discussion about single and married mothers. It is crucial to emphasize the fact that the family budget of married mothers is not only based on their own earnings but on the income of their spouses as well, therefore, poverty is not that common within such households. Married mothers do not have to provide for the family on their own as well as rely on social welfare programs. In 2011, the labor participation rate for married mothers with a spouse constituted 68, 7%. Moreover, despite the fact that married mothers were about as likely to be employed as single mothers, their unemployment was equal to 6% (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2).

On the other hand, single mother poverty rates are much higher in the United States than in other high income countries (Single Mother Poverty in the United States in 2010). The reasons for high poverty rate among single mothers vary from low minimum wage, occupational segregation into low-wage “women’s work”, the absence of allowance programs, and unaffordable child care to unsupportive unemployment insurance system; however, the most obvious cause of economic hardships is poor employment and labor force participation. In 2011, the unemployment rate for single mothers was equal to 15%, which is substantially higher as compared to the rate of married mothers.  According to The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, while two fifth of single mothers are employed full-time the entire year, a quarter is jobless the entire year. Moreover, median income for single mother families is one third of median income for a married mother (Single Mother Poverty in the United States in 2010).

Another index of measuring the differences between being a single and a married mother is based on the key dimensions of parenting capacity. The term “parenting capacity” presupposes fulfillment of the following parenting needs and tasks:  ensuring safety (protecting a child from harm and danger, contact with unsafe adults, recognition of hazards and danger), emotional warmth (giving a child a sense of being valued, satisfying emotional needs, providing with secure, affectionate relationship, showing sensitivity and responsiveness to child’s needs, demonstrating encouragement), stimulation (facilitating a child’s cognitive development and potential through interaction, communication, responding to questions, facilitating a child to meet challenges in life), guidance and boundaries (enabling the child to regulate his or her own emotions and behavior, demonstrating appropriate social behavior and demonstrating models for interaction) (Butler and Roberts 87).

Not being forced to make a choice between performing the role of either a “sole provider” or “sole nurturer”, married mothers have bigger chances of establishing a healthy balance between being involved into the labor market to a certain degree and being able to invest their parenting capacity into their child. Married mothers have the potential of being more vigilant in ensuring security, recognizing hazardous situations. They can also be more emotionally responsive and sensitive. They might have more time and opportunities to provide their child with stimulation towards cognitive activities, communication, and interaction. By demonstrating the role model of a healthy family and the type of communication between its members, married mothers succeed in providing their child with guidance and lessons for the future life in the society.

On the other hand, in their struggle to provide the elements of basic care, such as physical needs, appropriate medical and dental care, food provision, shelter, clean clothing, and utilities for personal hygiene, single mothers might devote less time for the rest of the dimensions of parenting capacity mentioned above. They might not always be present in the everyday activities of a child to recognize and prevent hazardous situations and events, or demonstrate encouragement and respond to all the needs for affection of their child. Single parents do not always have time for communication and interaction. The strategies they exploit in raising their child are quite often based on independence and autonomy granting. Moreover, the everyday struggles might lead to development of depressions. The latter is significantly associated with less positive parenting (U.S. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 119). The social models for a family structure demonstrated by single mothers do not correspond to the standardized concepts, thus, might lead to certain degree of distortion concerning the boundaries and social behavior in the mind of a child.

In order to contrast the phenomena of single mothers and married mothers, one might also resort to the theory of “flow” and “stock” models. According to the theory, each individual is endowed with a “stock” of health. It is considered to be a combination of a baseline endowment and certain “flows”.  The flows are the actions that influence individual’s health during the lifetime, and include productive time in the labor market and family. The state of health of married mothers and their children will be influenced by the positive flows. Having a spouse means being able to divide time between work, the household and other commodities.

 The state of health of a single mother and their children has a potential of being lower due to negative “flows” that have long-term ramifications. Slade and Beller claim:

In a single-parent household, there is smaller endowment of both money and time to devote to these tasks. Depending on their varying utility for their health, their child’s health, market goods, and leisure, among other factors, their time would be allocated differently than in a two-parent household. (6)

In spite of having a number of divergent aspects to the nature of parenting, both single and married mothers face certain things that form a common ground for them when it comes to facing the experience of raising a child. First of all, both categories of mothers undergo psychological changes that have to do with having such radical changes in one’s life. In both cases, the adaptation phase of motherhood consists in bringing many of woman’s identities, such as the role of a wife and position in the community, into balance with her life as a mother. The most difficult identity to balance with motherhood is the role of a woman in the labor market.

Even though emotional and psychological changes that mothers usually undergo are caused by different reasons, their essence is similar in its nature.  If a new mother has to work for financial reasons (in case of single mothers quite often), she may experience a significant sense of loss, and such emotional wounds might lead to postpartum depression. If a mother has a financial ability to stop her career and stay at home (mostly the case with married mothers), she often feels as if she has dropped out of society and is wasting her education and career opportunities (Stern and Bruschweiler-Stern 211).

Another crucial realization that dawns upon both single and married mothers is that they have to maintain the previous commitment to their jobs as they had before the birth of a child. In both situations certain level of adjustments is to be achieved in order to balance the two aspects of life. Women usually seek “mother-compatible hours”, and whenever it is not achievable, they change their employment tracks, however, continue to apply their expertise. There is, for sure, a limit to which such adjustments can be performed in both cases. While similar to married ones, low-wage single mothers negotiate about their work and family balance as well, there is less to be negotiated in reality. Single mothers are caught in a capital market economy to a greater degree than married mothers are (Hertz 164).

Being a single mother differs from raising a child with a spouse in several significant ways. It is the single mother households, not married mothers that contribute to poverty in the United States due to poor labor participation and high level of unemployment. Key dimensions of parenting capacity have a potential of being adhered to on a more proper level by married mothers, as they have more time and support from a spouse. Due to the positive “flow” into the “stock” of health of married mothers their health has proved to be better than that of single mothers due to the lack of time and finances. Simultaneously, single mothers and married mothers do have a number of things in common, such as the adjustments they have to make with regard to the labor market and family life, along with the emotional changes they have to overcome in their attempts to embark on the journey of motherhood.

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