Friday, August 31, 2012

single and unequal

This post was written by Paul Dean and originally appeared in The Sociological Cinema

In this video, The New York Times notes that "as a single mother of three, Jessica Schairer falls in the middle of a sharp debate about how economic inequality is increasingly linked to changes in family structure" (see accompanying article and infographic). Through Jessica's story as a working class mother, it illustrates how family structure can exacerbate already existing class inequalities. Jessica explains her stress trying to raise her children as a single parent, including the difficulties of getting home and needing to meet the needs of children and her inability to pay for all the activities her children would like to do. This is contrasted with her married supervisor at work, who is able to rely on a partner when going home from work. The narrator notes that like Jessica's supervisor, college-educated people are more likely to marry and that their combined resources help provide an additional advantage in raising their income, which provides additional advantages conferred to their children. The narrator also notes that "many children of single parents flourish, but studies have shown that on average, children raised by single parents are more likely to fall into poverty, do poorly in school, or become teenage parents." The accompanying article provides many additional statistics. For example, it notes that "estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality." Viewers can be encouraged to consider how class and family structure intersect to shape intergenerational economic inequality, and how low-income workers face more job-related difficulties in meeting family needs as compared to salaried professional workers.

Image by Stephen Crowley/New York Times


  1. Children with two parents have more advantages than single parents with divided time while their children. That observation alone goes hand in hand with the level of supervision- the more involved the parents are, the more goals and disciplinary qualities are instilled in the kids (as opposed to mainly during school, if that). Also, simply having a male role model (or a motherly figure for single fathers), regardless of daughters or sons, can be beneficial in a socializing aspect because it is completely natural for a young child to yearn the stereotypical affection of a mother as well as a firm hand to guide them, which males are seen to do generally better. For single parents, these dual roles can be exhausting, and children that lack either of them can more than likely get caught in the same "rut" that their parent had also been raised in. Speaking in terms of stress can take it's toll on the young mind as well. It can be contagious, especially when that is all children know when growing up. Not only can it reduce the self esteem in the child, but a single parent that is always stressed out leaves even smaller amounts of "family time" (with that remaining time only half-focused on successfully raising their child due to the stress in other aspects of their life) and so the kids can often try to escape their home life, finding sanction in peer groups that only hinder their gifts. Of course these are not a foolproof observations- exceptions are made all the time and inequality in some children dissipate by the time they reach adulthood...but for the most part intergenerational economic inequality seems to have deep roots with these few causes mentioned.

    Anthony Spears

  2. Its the children that are affected most when growing up in single parent households. Children growing up in a two parent household have the advatage because they have more time with their parents as well as two parent income. Usually that is not the case for single parent household children where there is less time and income. It then becomes a cycle and once cycles are made they are hard to break.

  3. I can feel bad for this woman, but only up to a certain point. She had to have known what type of income her educational level would bring in and know that bringing up three children on that income would be extremely difficult. So unless she was forced to have three children that she can't really afford, it's difficult to feel sorry for her past a certain degree- this was a choice that she made (even though I know she says that it wasn't). Perhaps she wouldn't feel as stressed if she had waited to have children, or simply didn't have three. My point is that, as "not nice" as it is to say, she brought this state on herself, and her children.

    One could make that argument that it's rather selfish to have children that can't be probably cared for- to have children because it's what that person wants in life, but without the consideration for what sort of life that child will have. Those children don't deserve to have a mother who is always stressed out and can't provide much more than the basics.

    So my issue isn't so much with single parenthood, it's with people who knowingly have children that they can't properly nurture, single or otherwise.

    All of that being said, it doesn't look as though her or her children are all that bad off. Just from that short video clip, it seems as though her issues are more of the "relative deprivation" variety than actual poverty. She doesn't speak of not having enough food to eat, or enough money to pay the bills, she has her own means of transportation, etc.- her issues revolve around time and extra-curricular activities

    I think this clip highlights the power of choice in our culture- meaning that we can shape our lives through the choices that we make... that we are not just passive victims at the mercy of society. Had she waited to have children, or perhaps declined to have any at all, perhaps her life (and the lives of her children)would have turned out differently.