Jim Rose has a post at Utopia on research by Kathryn Edin showing women are choosier about their husbands than the fathers of their children:
Far from eschwing marriage as an institution, she found poor women idealised it to such an extent that it became unattainable. they didn’t believe that a marriage born in poverty could survive.
In a society that increasingly saw marriage as a choice, not a requirement, low-income women were embracing the same preconditions as middle-class women. They wanted to be ‘set’ before marrying, with economic independence to ensure a more equitable partnership and a fallback should things go bad. They also wanted men who were were mature, stable and who had mortgages and other signs of adulthood, no just jobs.
“People were embracing higher and higher standards for marriage,” edin explains. From a financial standpoint alone, “the men that would have been marriageable [in the 1950s] are no longer marriageable now. That’s a cultural change.” The low-income women in Edin’s study reported that decent, trustworthy, available men were in short supply in their communities, where there were often major sex imbalances thanks to high incarceration rates. This, Edin found, was why low-income women were willing to decouple childbearing from marriage: They believed if they waited until everything was perfect, they might never have children. And children, says Edin, “are the things in life you can’t live without.” As one subject explained, “I don’t wanna big trail of divorce, you know. I’d rather say, ‘Yes I had my kids out of wedlock’ than say ‘I married this idiot’. It’s like a pride thing.”
Marriage was so taboo among her subjects that Edin discovered two couples in her sample who claimed they were unmarried at the time of their babies’ birth but were actually not. One of the women had even been chewed out by her grandmother for marrying the father of one of her children.
The research centred on low-income women but this mindset can also be found among women with more means.
I can understand the strong desire to have children but how sad is it that the standards women set for fathers of their children are lower than those they expect in husbands; that men are acceptable as sperm donors but not to play the important parenting role in their children’s lives?
Women don’t want to marry ‘this idiot’ but they accept them to father their children.
Marriage used to be the institution that provided stability and security for families, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer . . . now it’s an optional extra if an ideal man can be found and fathers don’t matter much.