By JOCELYN NOVECK and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
As Christy Everson was nearing age 40, she made a decision: She wanted to have a child, even though she was single and it meant doing it all alone. Her daughter, conceived via a sperm donor, is now 2 1/2 years old, and Everson hopes to have a second child.
“Was it worthwhile? Well, I’m thinking of doing it again, aren’t I?” she says.
Everson and women like her are part of a shift in American society. An Associated Press-WE tv poll of people under 50 found that more than 2 in 5 unmarried women without children — or 42 percent — would consider having a child on their own without a partner, including more than a third, or 37 percent, who would consider adopting solo.
The poll, which addressed a broad range of issues on America’s changing family structures, dovetails with a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau that single motherhood is on the rise: It found that of 4.1 million women who’d given birth in 2011, 36 percent were unmarried at the time of the survey, an increase from 31 percent in 2005. And among mothers 20-24, the percentage was 62 percent, or six in 10 mothers.
The AP-WE tv poll also found that few Americans think the growing variety of family arrangements is bad for society. However, many have some qualms about single mothers, with some two-thirds — or 64 percent — saying single women having children without a partner is a bad thing for society. More men — 68 percent — felt that way, compared to 59 percent of women.
The survey found broad gender gaps in opinion on many issues related to how and when to have children. One example: At a time when the can-you-have-it-all debate rages for working mothers, women were more apt than men to say having children has negatively impacted their career.
And this was true especially among mothers who waited until age 30 or older to have children. Fully 47 percent of those mothers said having a child had a negative impact on their careers. Of women overall, 32 percent of mothers reported a negative effect, compared with 10 percent of men.
For Everson, who lives in a suburb of Minneapolis and is now 44, being the only parent means daily responsibilities that naturally suck up some of the time she used to spend on her career as a financial consultant.
“To be honest about it, it’s hard to be a rock star” when parenting a baby, she says. But she sees it as more of a temporary career setback, and feels she’s already getting back on track with her toddler now over age 2. Soon, she says, “I’ll be getting back on my A-game.”
For Joyce Chen, a hospital occupational therapist in San Francisco, it’s a question of what kind of career she wants to have. Chen, 41 and also a single mother, is happy to have work that she not only enjoys, but that she can balance easily with caring for her 10-year-old daughter. “I’ve been blessed,” she says. “I have a decent income. I don’t feel like I need to climb the ladder. I enjoy what I do, but I can leave it at the end of the day and not think about it.”
Chen also credits a strong community of friends from church for helping make her family work. “That community has helped me raise my daughter,” she says. She hopes to get married one day if the right situation comes along.
But Chen feels that a single mom can do just as good a job of raising a child as two parents can. Overall, the poll found decidedly mixed results on that question: Thirty percent of respondents said yes, 27 percent said no, and 43 percent said “it depends.”
At 26, Jacqueline Encinias is at a much less established point in her career. A married mother of a month-old baby in Albuquerque, N.M., she aims to go back to school to study accounting. For now, though, she says she’s “just looking for something to get me by.” Encinias says that she would probably not have made the choice to be a mother alone.
“I wouldn’t want my child to grow up with just one parent,” she says. “If other people want to do it, it’s OK, but it’s not for me.” Support of a partner is crucial to her, she says. (Finding the right person to parent with was a key factor in the decision to have a child, the poll found, cited by both current parents and non-parents.)
Shermeka Austin, a 23-year-old student in Warren, Mich., feels the same way. “That would not be a choice for me, being a single parent,” Austin says. She hopes to get married and have children one day, but first, she says, she wants to focus on her goal of opening her own bakery. Once she achieves that, she’d be happy to make sacrifices in order to have kids. In the poll, about three-quarters (76 percent) of women without children said that it was important for them to reach certain career goals before they start a family.
While 42 percent of unmarried women said they would consider single parenthood, compared with 24 percent of men, answers varied greatly as to the ways they’d consider going about it. Thirty-seven percent of women said they’d consider adopting solo (compared to 19 percent of men), about a third of women — 31 percent — said they’d consider freezing their eggs, and 27 percent would be willing to use artificial insemination and donor sperm.
Stacey Ehlinder, a 28-year-old event planner in Denver, says she would consider some of those options at some point if necessary — though she’s currently in a relationship headed towards marriage. She says she’s surprised by the high percentage of poll respondents who had doubts about single mothers. “It just seems like these days there are so many more definitions of a family,” she says.
Ehlinder is confident that if she does have children, she’ll be able to balance career and motherhood. “In my industry, and in companies I’ve worked for, I’ve seen flexibility given to mothers,” she says. “It makes me feel confident that I could juggle things and be the mother I want to be.”
Many respondents, in interviews, said that while the optimal situation for raising kids is two parents, there’s no prescription for the perfect family.
Matthew Dean, a father of three in San Antonio, Texas, said he was glad that his wife, a former teacher, is able to stay home with their kids, an arrangement that was originally supposed to be temporary. “It was first, let’s do it through kindergarten, then it was, let’s do it through second grade…” he quips. Ultimately they decided it was best for the children. “I look around and realize how everything would have been so chaotic and rushed, otherwise,” Dean says.
Still, he says, he understands that many different arrangements work, including single-parent families. “It’s maybe not preferred, but it is what it is,” says Dean, 46. “It’s an added challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. There’s no guarantee in any situation. People can have a two-parent situation that is a complete wreck.”
The poll was conducted in conjunction with WE tv ahead of the launch of the show “Pregnant and Dating,” which looks at the dating lives of women on the verge of becoming single mothers. It was conducted May 15-23, 2013 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel. It involved online interviews with 1,277 people age 18-49, including interviews with 298 women who have children or are currently pregnant with their first child and have never been married. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for all respondents.
KnowledgePanel is constructed using traditional telephone and mail sampling methods to randomly recruit respondents. People selected who had no Internet access were given it for free.
AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
A deeper look at the key findings in the Associated Press-WE tv poll
An Associated Press-WE tv poll took a deep look at how Americans under age 50 feel about having children, single parents and changing family structures.
THE CHANGING AMERICAN FAMILY
-In the poll, 31 percent of all parents reported being unmarried when they had their first child. About half (47 percent) of currently unmarried women in this age group are mothers.
-Nearly half (45 percent) say the growing variety of family arrangements in the U.S. doesn’t really have much impact on society, with the remainder divided on whether they make a positive impact (28 percent) or a negative one (26 percent). Women tilt toward calling new arrangements positive (31 percent say so compared with 23 percent who say it’s a bad thing) and men are split nearly evenly (29 percent say they’re bad, 25 percent good).
-On the other hand, 64 percent call single women having children a bad thing for society — a figure that has held steady in Pew Research Center polls on the topic back to 1997. Even mothers who had their first child while unmarried express concern that increasing numbers of solo moms are bad for society — 49 percent say so compared with 11 percent who say it’s a good thing and 40 percent who say it doesn’t make much difference. About half of single mothers (51 percent) say a single mother can do as good a job as two parents.
PARENTS REFLECT ON THEIR DECISIONS, IMPACT OF CHILDREN
-Three-quarters who already have children say they always knew they wanted them, and fathers (81 percent) were a bit more likely to say they always wanted kids than mothers (72 percent).
-Parents say their children had a positive impact on their love life (45 percent positive vs. 19 percent negative) and social life (37 percent positive to 22 percent negative), but more say having children hurt rather than helped their financial well-being (35 percent negative, 25 percent positive).
-Among working parents, working mothers are almost three times as likely as fathers to say their careers took a hit when they became parents (31 percent of working moms say so compared with 11 percent of working dads).
-College educated women (44 percent) and women who became mothers at age 30 or above (47 percent) were most apt to report a negative impact on their career from having children. But those same women who became mothers at age 30 or above were more apt than other mothers to say having children increased their overall happiness, sense of accomplishment and sense of purpose.
-More than 8 in 10 parents said that their decision to have a child rested heavily on having found the right person to have a child with, the joy in having children and having the financial resources to raise a child. Less than half said it was important that they reach certain career goals before having a family, and only 17 percent said pressure from parents or other family members was key. Forty percent of parents said an important factor was that “it just happened.”
MOST WITHOUT CHILDREN WANT THEM EVENTUALLY
-Among those under age 50 without children, 53 percent say they want them eventually, 30 percent say it depends, 16 percent say no. Of those who do, 94 percent say an important factor is finding the right partner. Yet 42 percent of unmarried women and 24 percent of unmarried men who want children say they would consider ways to have or adopt a child on their own.
-Non-parents are more likely than those who’ve already had children to say it’s important to consider whether they have the financial resources to raise a child (94 percent call that important) and to reach certain career goals before starting a family (72 percent say it’s important to do so).
-If those parents-to-be go it alone, they won’t necessarily stay that way. Broadly speaking, kids aren’t a turnoff in the dating world. About 7 in 10 would start a relationship with someone who already had children, though that drops to 56 percent if the child is an infant.
-Among men, about a quarter say they would consider a relationship with a woman who’s pregnant.
The AP-WE tv Poll, conducted May 15-23, 2013 using GfK’s probability-based online panel KnowledgePanel, involved online interviews with 1,277 people age 18-49. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for all respondents.
Methodology and question wording available online: http://surveys.ap.org
How the Associated Press-WE tv poll on the changing American family was conducted
The Associated Press-WE tv poll on the changing American family and having children was conducted May 15-23 and is based on interviews of 1,277 adults 18-49, including 298 women ages 18-49 who have never married and have children or are pregnant.
The national survey was conducted online by GfK of Palo Alto, Calif., under the direction and supervision of the AP’s polling unit.
The original sample was drawn from a panel of respondents GfK recruited via phone or mail survey methods. The company provides Web access to panel recruits who don’t already have it. With a probability basis and coverage of people who otherwise couldn’t access the Internet, GfK’s online surveys using KnowledgePanel are nationally representative.
Results were weighted, or adjusted, to reflect the adult population by demographic factors such as age, sex, region, race, and education.
No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.8 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults 18-49 in the U.S. were polled. The margin of sampling error for women ages 18-49 who have never married and have children or are pregnant is plus or minus 8.9 percentage points.
There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.
The questions and results are available at http://surveys.ap.org .