With a flurry of pop-cultural references to single women and artificial insemination, one can’t help but notice a trend: socially accepted single motherhood is on the rise.
One such movie, The Back up Plan, stars Jennifer Lopez as a woman who decides to have a child on her own after confronting the fact that she hasn’t met the right man yet, only to meet him after she’s become pregnant.
“The sort of traditional courtship, love, marriage, parenthood sequence of events has really been turned on its head,” said Allen Poul, the movie’s director in a featurette about the film. This summer another movie featuring artificial insemination with donor sperm will come on the big screen with Jennifer Aniston playing a single woman who decides to start a family on her own.
Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand have whipped up a non-fictional version with their new book “Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood” about how one vial of frozen sperm influenced their journey to motherhood. The story is actually quite remarkable, and has been released with much fanfare.
These examples sit among a wealth of media relating to artificial insemination, and it all adds up to an impressive cultural shift.
Thanks to studies done by Childstats.gov, we can get a clear picture of this fundamental societal shift over the past few decades. Between 1980 and 2007, the birth rate for unmarried women ages 15-44 increased from 29 to 53 births per 1,000 unmarried women. Taking out births from 15-19 years olds, which fortunately dropped, we see an even greater increase. Single women between 20 and 29 saw birth rates shoot up from about 38 unmarried births per thousand to about 77 per thousand births by 2006. Women in their 30s went from an average of 15 births per thousand in 1980, to 42 per thousand by 2006.
The study sites a number of factors affecting the change. For one, the number of women of childbearing age who remained unmarried went from under one-third to almost a half by 1994. At the same time, there was an increase in nonmarital cohabitation and childbearing within marriage fell by almost half.
A clear reflection of these changes is a new statistic that has been added, which counts children born with two unmarried parents.
Clearly, we are living in a different world, and the definition of family is changing along with us. The current pop-cultural boom portraying single or unmarried women having children and starting a family is a reflection of the trend’s growing acceptance in society.
There was a time when having a child out of wedlock was considered an embarrassment, and anything but a traditional family structure was something to be ashamed of.
What people are beginning to realize is that it’s not the family structure but the environment in which a child is raised that determines the quality of their life. More and more, American culture is willing to accept that single parents are capable of creating that kind of environment.