Why The ‘Single Mom Statistics’ Suck: According To The Numbers, I Should Be A Failure

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These single mother statistics that get thrown around so often use very broad strokes to paint a huge number of individuals, all who have their own stories. Their successes and failures might be impacted by their marriage status, but they aren’t dependent on it. And when we keep harping on percentages and demographics, we lose sight of the actual people that we’re talking about.

According to recent statistics, two-fifths of single mother families fall below the poverty line. By the way, that means that three-fifths don’t. For those children who grow up in the poorest third of America, 58% with two-parent families raised to a higher level, while just 44% of one-parent kids made the jump. Yet, we’re still talking about almost half of the children in the bottom third making their way up the socioeconomic ladder.

I am not pretending that the statistics don’t demonstrate how hard it can be to raise children on one income instead of two. I just don’t think we can look at the percentages alone. Because 44% of the poorest third of America is still a whole lot of people. It’s a huge group of individuals who are succeeding. And yet, we see the children of single mothers as being doomed. By the way, just another statistic, around half of the mothers in this country will be single parents at one point in time or another.

It is worth noting that I have never seen a piece in a major news publication about single fathers, their impact on the economy, or their future prospects. I’ve never heard the story of two men, one married and living with his wife and kids, the other paying child support and seeing his kids every other weekend. We talk a lot about single mothers and why they shouldn’t have spread their legs before marriage. We talk a lot less about the partners who didn’t stick around.

I have been a single mother and I have been a married mother. I never stopped being the same mom. My daughter didn’t change and suddenly become a different person when my husband slipped a ring on my finger. But if you listen to those statistics long enough, apparently marriage is a cure-all for what ails us. It’ll fix income inequality. It’ll bolster economic mobility. We’ll all be better off married.

I’m not knocking marriage. I happen to love it. But every time I hear new single mother statistics, I feel a little defensive. I get angry on behalf of single mothers everywhere, who are more than statistics. They’re more than college graduation rates and income levels. Their children are more than percentage points. They’re people. And they’ll succeed or they’ll fail, but it won’t be determined by a wedding ring. It’s about so much more than that.

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