According to a report released last March by Pew Research Center, about 47% of American adults say single women raising children on their own is “generally a bad thing for society.”
The report, which is based on the results of a survey conducted last October, also found that the share of adults with this negative sentiment toward single mothers increased 7 percentage points from 40% three years ago. Meanwhile, in 2021, 43% said it “doesn’t make a difference” and 10% said single mothers raising children on their own is actually “good for society.”
So, why do nearly half of American adults vilify single mothers, while single fathers are lauded?
According to everydayfeminism.com, “negative views about single motherhood tend to stem from a conviction that there is something inherently wrong or damaged about a single mother as a person.” This belief arises from a lack of gender parity derived from gendered beliefs about men and women’s roles when it comes to parenting.
“People assume we make bad decisions, people assume we only want help or money or pity from them. People assume we’re whores, etc, etc, etc. Just go read one of the men trying to justify not wanting to date a single mother just because she’s a single mother,” Alexa Jones, a self-described single mother, wrote in response to a 2019 question posted to Quora that asked, “Why does society look down at single moms?”
Dating advice gurus who cater to men plaster videos all over YouTube that revile single moms. The reasons not to date them include cuckold concerns, taking a backseat to her children priority-wise, and becoming her personal ATM.
In response to the aforementioned Quora query, in 2018, Alex Duval, who studied psychology & women’s studies at University of Guelph (in Canada) said:
“Society doesn’t look down on single moms. Society looks down on mothers who don’t work, and also happen to be single.” Later adding, “Single moms who don’t work are seen (rightfully) as leeches on other hard-working people.”
According to everydayfeminism.com, the reason single mothers are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty than single fathers is because of the economic disparities that exist between the sexes. Compounding this fact is data from a 2013 Pew survey which found that 76% of single parent households are headed up by single mothers.
That may be a contributing factor why women are less likely to say single mothers are a dreg of society. According to the 2021 Pew data, 59% of men said single mothers are bad for society, compared to 37% of women.
“Who cares what society does? I love being a single mom, it’s awesome! The kids love it too! Society is making every attempt to oppress women and marriage is a big part of that plot,” wrote Andreea Kennedy on Quora.
Views on the potentially deleterious effects of single motherhood also split among party lines. According to Pew, 62% of Republicans and Republican leaners say single women raising children alone is bad for society (up 9% from 2018), while only 36% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this is bad for society, an increase of 6 points from three years ago.
Variations exist among the genders comprising each party as well. A whopping 73% of Republican men say single mothers are bad for society while on 43% of Republican women share this sentiment. On the other side of the aisle, 45% of Democratic men disapprove of single mother’s effect on society, while only 28% of Democratic women feel this way.
When asked “Why do people seem to have such disgust and hatred towards single mothers?” on Quora, Lisa Russell, a mother of six said:
“Because her existence challenges the value of men in society. She’s parenting alone, she’s often solely responsible for her family financially and she’s not dependent on a man for her existence. Weaker men are intimidated by this.”
Russell shares the view of third wave feminist theorists who argue that antipathy towards single mothers arises from “an ideological backlash against feminist gains in the arenas of childcare and the family.”
This backlash is exemplified by a so-called “new momism” that makes negative media spectacles of women who kill their children, while praising celebrity mothers for their parenting style.
Mary Thompson, an associate Professor of English at James Madison University who also coordinates the university’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program said:
“Today’s woman, according to the ideology of the new momism, is not complete without a child, she must be the primary care-giver of that child, and she must devote herself utterly to her children. While seemingly a celebration of motherhood, this message reflects profound patriarchal surveillance and constraints placed upon and internalized by women.”