Single moms and their kids battle recession

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I was somewhat surprised to read in a Legal Momentum e-newsletter that single mothers have traditionally always had a higher unemployment rate than the general population. Now they say the recession’s having an even greater negative impact. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) say the unemployment rate for single mothers was 13.6% in 2009 compared to 9.3% for the population as a whole.

I know how hard-hit so many two-parent families have been by this recession—several in my family had to have the stay-at-home mom go out and get a job. And having been a single mom myself who fought like hell to pay the bills and find a new job after losing  my employment in two earlier recessions, I find it painful to think about the struggles of the single mother in today’s brutal economy. First, they are women, which means they are already more likely to be paid less than men for similar work—in every type of job, from WalMart greeter to corporate executive. Second, unlike two-parent families there’s no second person to bring in backup income. Third, since a single mom already has an important second job—raising her kids—it may literally not be possible to take on a third job or find money to pay for child care even if she could.

Whether you make $20,000 a year or $100,000, whether you’re a working married mom or a single mom, as a parent your goal is to give your child the best possible life. When I read about how families are supported in other countries such as the private/public partnership to provide child care for all kids in Finland, it makes me sad that we don’t feel more of an obligation to help all of our country’s children receive the care they deserve while their moms work or look for work.

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Can You Be Single and Have it All? Guest Post by Bella DePaulo

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If you want to learn about all the ways our society discriminates against single people, read Bella DePaulo’s work. She’s a Harvard PhD who pulls no punches calling out even high-flying groups like the American Psychological Association for their subtle “singlism” in language and attitude. She serves as a beacon for helping us do the consciousness-raising we all have to do before we get to the point where, as Morgan Freeman says “no need to say you’re proud to be black” and Dr. Karen Gail says in the previous post “no need to be proud you’re single,” we don’t have to say anything or prove anything to anybody about our life position.

With that, have at it, Bella…


When Barbara Payne asked me if I had a favorite life-changing moment as a single person, I immediately knew the story I wanted to tell. In fact, I had already written about it in my book, Singled Out. It was  the opening to the chapter in which I make fun of the stereotype that people who are single don’t have a life. Here it is (from p. 185):

After I moved from the East Coast to the West, there was a time when I knew I wanted to stay out West, but was not yet sure whether I could make that happen. Would I be able to sell my home in Virginia? Would anyone hire me for only as many hours as it took to pay my bills, so I could devote the rest of my time, and all of my heart and soul, to the study of singles? What about all the rest of it – would it all work out? Then one day, I got a phone call, and I knew that it had happened. I hung up and sat in quiet stunned amazement for a moment. Then I thought to myself, “I can have it all.”

It took a second for me to realize just how bizarre that thought was – at least by the prevailing standards. Here I was, stepping into a life in which I had no husband, no children, no full-time job, and for the first time in more than a decade, no home that I owned. Yet to me, I was about to have it all.

I doubt that I would have thought of my life that way many years before. I loved my friends, my family, my job, and my home, but I would not have spontaneously appropriated a cultural catch-phrase, nor refashioned it so thoroughly.

Years have passed since I wrote those words. I still have no husband, no children, no full-time job, and no home that I own. I could hardly be happier. I’ve made new friends and kept the old. I work as many hours as it takes to pay the bills (plus the time it takes to find the next opportunity that pays), then I passionately pursue my thinking and research and writing about single life.

I used to save up my money every year to spend a week or so at the beach. Now I live at the beach. Yes, I’m renting, but I can walk out my front door and have my toes in the Pacific Ocean in ten minutes. Or I can walk the many and varied trails. Or I can drive a few miles and pick up fruits and vegetables at the farmers market; my favorites sit colorfully and boastfully next to a hand-written sign that says “picked this morning.” I’d still love to see more of the friends and family who remain out East, but it is not hard to persuade people to visit me in the tiny town that is so aptly named Summerland.

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard) is the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After and of Single with Attitude: Not Your Typical Take on Health and Happiness, Love and Money, Marriage and Friendship. She writes the “Living Single” blog for Psychology Today and also blogs at Bella DePaulo’s blog. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.

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Listen to some truths about being single!

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The hottest stations these days don’t broadcast from radios.

Had a great time being interviewed on a wonderful Internet radio series last Thursday. I also invited one of SWWAN’s favorite champions to join me, Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. We had a fantastic discussion with Leah (host and mastermind behind Women Living on the Verge of Evolution) about being single—what sucks, what’s great, what can we do to help each other.

Dr. Karen Gail suggested we establish small groups of women who can and will talk honestly with each other about the challenges and the joys and rewards of living as single women, supporting each other to express all our feelings—and as we do so, come up with ideas for improving the language our society uses about being single.

SWWAN is the perfect focal point for setting these groups up. We already have a couple of online community setups that we haven’t done much with. If anyone is interested in helping give form to the small consciousness-raising groups she suggested, email me and let’s toss some ideas around. Great way to meet other single working women!

Here’s the link to listen to the show: “Being Single: A prolonged state of waiting—or an empowered life choice?”  It’s fun! And we even had a single guy (my brother) call in to say he wishes single men could do more of what we single women are doing. Hurray! Consciousness-raising all around…

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Singlism in college textbooks? Yep – read our guest blogger

textbooksDiscovered a cool Twitterer the other day, Jeanine, who writes about SinglePhobia. Having become a college student later in life—going for a second degree—she was surprised to find how negatively single people were presented in her university textbook. Happily, she agreed to contribute to our SWWAN blog…

“I recently took a social psychology course as an elective toward an undergraduate degree in sociology.  Our assigned textbook was Social Psychology by David G. Myers (ninth edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2008).  Myers is a prolific author of college textbooks, and I’d read another of his books for an introductory psychology class.  As I read more of Social Psychology, I began to notice that Myers seems to have a negative opinion of single people.

“Throughout the book Myers correlates being married with higher levels of health, happiness, success, and social status than for single people.  But rather than offer readers a range of views about marital status that supports critical thinking, Myers promotes one viewpoint and seems to denigrate single people.

“In the first chapter, Myers describes a correlation between obesity in young women and discrimination, and states that obese women’s unmarried status at the conclusion of the study – at age 31 – suggests that the women were discriminated against.  But does being unmarried at age 31 – or age 41 or 51 – necessarily indicate discrimination?  Is being single a negative indicator?

“There are volumes of scholarly research on happiness, life satisfaction, and loneliness in married, single, divorced, and widowed people, from many points of view.  But throughout the textbook, Myers only mentions research that supports his beliefs about marriage, and seems to find opposing views trivial.  Myers writes “the myth that single women are happier than married women can be laid to rest” without citing proof.  At times he sounds contemptuous, referring to unmarried people as “pleasure-seeking” and assuming that single people view marriage as being in “bondage,” “chains,” or a “yoke.”

“Myers also states that married people are more complex than single people, explaining that if a married person has a bad day at work, he needn’t fall apart, because his work self is only a small part of his identity.  According to Myers, “when our personal identity stands on several legs, it, too, holds up under the loss of any one.”   He concludes that a married person’s identity “stands on several legs” but that a single person’s identity stands only on one leg – his work life.  It is as if Myers assumes that single people have no other pursuits outside of work – nothing but four walls and the pursuit of mindless pleasure!

“Ironically, a chapter in which Myers disparages single people features a photo of the Delaney sisters, a pair of sisters who never married, and who each lived beyond the age of 100.  The text offers, “The Delaney sisters, both over 100, attributed their longevity to a positive outlook on life.”

“A social psychology textbook should encourage critical thinking about cultural beliefs, not reinforce stereotypes and suppress dissenting views.  College professors who assign this textbook should be aware of Myers’ biases and also assign texts that offer a range of representations of the lives of single people.

“In class we discussed the widely held belief that married people were better off in terms of happiness, health, and life satisfaction.  One student mentioned Jennifer Senior’s article about urban loneliness in New York Magazine.  I read the article and that led me to discover the Singles Studies web site at Berkeley, which led me to books that challenge anti-singles bias in academic research and popular culture.  Through further reading, I learned that certain studies that support Myers’ negative view of single people are flawed in terms of data, design, or interpretation, and that some of our culture’s assumptions about single people are based on flawed research.

Myers, David G.  2008.  Social Psychology (9th edition) http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0073531898/information_center_view0

David G. Myers’ web site http://www.davidmyers.org

Alone Together, by Jennifer Senior http://nymag.com/news/features/52450

What a shame the textbook author has such a limited view of singles–I bet he doesn’t know any single women who are SWWANs! Like Jeanine’s writing? Follow her on Twitter

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Science supports the SWWAN mission

Just finished a brilliant book, “Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After,” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). Author Bella DePaulo, a Harvard-educated PhD who happens to be an ever-single, brings to light all the subtle, hidden, insidious ways in which American society discriminates against singles.

If you thought it was just you, or you thought it was just a few people around you with whom you sometimes feel less-than, you’ll be very pleased to know that, in fact, not only are you not alone, but it’s pervasive. Getting married in America gets you all kinds of perks and privileges you are pointedly–and often smugly–denied because you’re single. And that includes a not-insignificant number of government-issued free passes and discounts. We’ll talk more about that another time.

And today, when 51% of women in this country are single, these truths become not just appalling but incredible. I love how she says about certain facts, try saying this with the word “married” instead of single and see what kind of hell you’d raise. DePaulo calls this discriminatory pattern–and it is a pattern, not a few isolated incidents–singlism. She compares it–quite aptly and with scientific proof–to sexism, racism and every other case of widespread discrimination still practiced (with varying degrees of subterfuge) today.

Fifty-one percent? And listen to how arch-conservative Time magazine “yes, buts…” its way through an analysis of the book’s carefully researched statistics.

“The Times got to 51% only[emphasis added] by including 2.4 million American females over 15 (of the 117 million total) who are married but aren’t living with their husbands–but not because the marriage is troubled, according to Robert Bernstein, a press officer with the Census Bureau. Instead, they live in different places because of, say, a temporary work assignment such as military deployment. The paper also counts widows as women living without their husbands. Right. They’re dead. Except for the infinitesimal number who killed their spouses, these women didn’t give up on matrimony.”

And there’s more. How about this: “…it’s true that Americans wait longer than ever to wed. But the rise in marrying age almost exactly mirrors the rise in life expectancy.” What does maybe-living til 80 have to do with refusing to give up your freedom to be uniquely yourself when you’re 22, 23, 24 and 25? Methinks though dost protest too much, Time.

But in the end, they can’t nay-say the truths laid bare in this scholarly but very passionately written book about singles in America. They end with this: “There’s good evidence that it is freedom that makes us healthy and happy, not the bonds of marriage.”

We’ve invited Bella DePaulo to talk with us on the SWWAN Dive radio show. Stay tuned and we’ll let you know when she’ll be appearing.

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