When Nia Long covered Essence magazine, the conversation quickly turned from how absolutely stunning she looked to rumblings about whether or not her place on the storied glossy’s cover was somehow “glamourizing” single motherhood.
The comments varied wildly between those who thought Long’s inclusion sent the wrong message about marriage and motherhood, and others who felt it was perfectly fine to highlight a professional woman successfully juggling career and family. After all, with more and more children being born to unmarried parents (about 41 percent of children born in the United States), Nia Long isn’t a “role model,” she’s just reality.
But lost in the debate about why women allow themselves to get knocked up and mother children without a ring are the dads. Rarely do we ever read articles or books aimed at lowering fatherlessness. And we rarely see columns dedicated to men who should have kept it in their pants and made better decisions. But the reverse? Well, those hits just don’t stop coming.
Over the weekend the New York Times ran a story about the growing income inequality gap. According to the article, marriage is a key factor in a person’s ability to have more economic mobility. It makes sense; two incomes are better than one. But while the article focused on the plight of two similar women — both white, both employed at a daycare, both mothers — the marked difference in the women’s income was brought on by marriage.
They are both friendly white women from modest Midwestern backgrounds who left for college with conventional hopes of marriage, motherhood and career. They both have children in elementary school. They pass their days in similar ways: juggling toddlers, coaching teachers and swapping small secrets that mark them as friends. They even got tattoos together. Though Ms. Faulkner, as the boss, earns more money, the difference is a gap, not a chasm.
But a friendship that evokes parity by day becomes a study of inequality at night and a testament to the way family structure deepens class divides. Ms. Faulkner is married and living on two paychecks, while Ms. Schairer is raising her children by herself. That gives the Faulkner family a profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages.
Ms. Faulkner goes home to a trim subdivision and weekends crowded with children’s events. Ms. Schairer’s rent consumes more than half her income, and she scrapes by on food stamps.
“I see Chris’s kids — they’re in swimming and karate and baseball and Boy Scouts, and it seems like it’s always her or her husband who’s able to make it there,” Ms. Schairer said. “That’s something I wish I could do for my kids. But number one, that stuff costs a lot of money and, two, I just don’t have the time.”
The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.
But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.
As Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel pointed out, left out of the NY Times piece is the fact that Ms. Schairer’s ex, and the father of her kids, simply up and vanished after the couple split (even though it was his idea to have the children in the first place). Despite the fact that his departure and lack of support is one of the reasons, if not the, reason Ms. Schairer and her family struggle to make ends meet, his presence, or lack thereof, is barely mentioned at all.
When it comes to parenting, we’ve come to expect women to bear the brunt of the responsibility for a decision both parties made, and we continuously let men who dodge their responsibilities off the hook. Moreover, the double standard surrounding single-parenting are astounding. If a man is raising a child after being abandoned by the child’s mother, we praise him for doing something extraordinary and shower him with support, but if the situation is reversed? She should have known better in the first place.
I won’t argue that raising a child alone is not the idea situation. I fully recognize that when a child’s parents are together in a loving and stable relationship, more often than not, the child will thrive. But to demonize single moms constantly, while letting the man who impregnated her remain unscathed, just doesn’t seem all that fair to me at all. After all, it takes two to make a thing go right — or wrong.