May 5, 2009

Amanda Berger ’09 Investigates Social Implications of Single-Mother Families

Anthropology and sociology major is performing an honors thesis under the guidance of Rebecca Kissane, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology

Amanda Berger ’09 (Parkland, Fla.) is exploring a relatively new type of family unit headed by “single mothers by choice.” Berger, an anthropology and sociology major, is investigating the social implications of this growing phenomenon for her honors thesis under the guidance of Rebecca Kissane, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology.

Berger defines “single mothers by choice” as single women, usually in their thirties and forties, who are both financially and emotionally stable and make a well informed decision to raise a child without a father. “Many would prefer to be married, but think that their biological clock is ticking. They aren’t necessarily rejecting the institution of marriage,” says Berger.

According to Berger, shifts in social norms in America have increased the number of women choosing to become single mothers. “Due to the relaxation of societal constraints on women and changes in economics, education, and technology, ‘single mothers by choice’ have emerged,” she explains. “As divorce rates rose, the number of single parent families increased, and it wasn’t such a stretch to have a change in family form.”

Opponents of single-mother families often wonder if the mental and emotional health of children who are raised without fathers is affected. Berger says that “single mothers by choice” often address this issue by including men in the lives of their children, even if the biological father cannot be a presence. She explains, “These single mothers understand that male role models are important, so they try to incorporate male family members, friends, or neighbors. They are making a traditional family in an untraditional way.”

Berger admits that she came to the subject matter in an unusual way, originally intending to examine deviant behavior relating to teenage pregnancy. Berger became interested in the topic of “single mothers by choice” through her research, which included traditional literature as well as blogs and newsletters created by online support groups.

Berger concludes that “single mothers by choice” are not going away. “They are the exemplars of the shifting American family, showing that women can raise children in non-patriarchal households. The family structure created by these single mothers is a viable variation of the conception of the two parent family. I think single mothers by choice are a viable family form and I don’t think that it’s a fad or trend,” says Berger.

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