In the United States, marriage has been one of the most cherished institutions, but it has gradually lost its meaning making it an issue of concern. Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas in their book, 'Promises I Can Keep: why poor women put motherhood before marriage' employ qualitative research to seek answers regarding the demeaning significance of marriage amongst teenagers with low income and to individuals who decide to pursue their careers. They lay emphasis on why women and especially teenagers opt to have children before marriage. There has been a turn of events because Kathryn and Maria focus on the behavior of couples as a unit unlike before where researchers analyzed individual behavior that is man and woman separately. The book provides an outlook of the reasons behind why women decide to bear kids that they are not capable of bringing up, why they view a previous valued institution as that which does not fit to their family setting as well as implication of motherhood in the perspective of inadequacy, cruelty, confinement, abuse of drugs, and betrayal.
From the findings of ethnographic research conducted on 165 single mothers living in poor conditions in New Jersey and Philadelphia, the authors paint a picture of how fast relationships develop within a short- span, and young individuals start cohabitating. Kathryn and Maria, states the process as that which begins by innocent kissing resulting in sex, pregnancy and later on living under one roof. The driving forces of this transition are deeply rooted in the cultural settings within which low-income couples live. The low-income earning couples believe that their relationships can only be strengthened by children. To women, having kids means that they are safe from fear of infertility, evaded loneliness and have assumed significant societal roles. For men, fathering a child is a way of proving that the beauty of a woman. It is unfortunate that with this positive attitude these low-income earning couples can barely provide basic needs to their children. On the contrary, these young low-income mothers, at times perceive childbearing out of wedlock as an indicator of one's failure in life. Meaning that if a better approach is used to address their needs, then there is a possibility of change.
Edin and Kefalas point out the difference between the view that is held by low-income earners and that of middle-class observers concerning poor women who have children. According to the social world of people living under poor conditions, bearing a child in those conditions is a sign of confirming one's worth in that particular society. To them, marriage is viewed as a desired aspiration that may seem unachievable whereas having children should be part of every woman's life regardless of her financial status. On the other hand, middle class have a different perception which is stated by the authors as, "To most middle-class observers, depending on their philosophical take on things, a poor woman with children but no husband, diploma or job is either a victim of her circumstances or undeniable proof that American society is coming apart at the seams" (p.6). Ideal single mothers in this context are women who have completed college and are capable of supporting their children without resorting to public funds. As much as middle-class women may seem to look down upon poor women blaming their poverty levels as caused by early childbirth, these poor women should not be supported in their attempt to justify their actions.
From the book, it is evident that various initiatives have been made to try and curb early childbirth by poor women and encourage getting into marriage after attaining financial stability. The authors argue that teenage pregnancy should not lead to one's career shutdown. The government, therefore, put in place public policies to check on TANF benefits to a maximum of five years and enforced work requirements on the benefits in an attempt to improve opportunity cost thus reducing the rates of early marriages and childbirth. These changes ought to counter the previous policies where poor women were entitled to universal health care, paid family and childbirth leave, paid sick leave and livable minimum wage. Although the approach would help solve the issue of early childbearing and marriages, it would be an exercise in futility to those that had already fallen victims of early childbirth.
According to conservative's marriage is a likely solution to problems that poor women face. However, these poor women still hold their belief that they have been in the same situations that they are currently, and although their poverty levels have not been fueled by their early child birth, they remain the root cause of their instabilities in marriage. If policymakers and conservatives think the compelling women to change their behavior and mentality is the prudent way to enforce their policies, then they are wrong. Instead, they should examine the root factors pushing these poor women to early marriages and childbearing. Again, the right to give birth either in marriage or out of wedlock should be granted to all women. As Kathryn and Maria state, "when people may have a sex life together and even have children outside of marriage, and when unmarried women are no longer treated like social pariahs, marriage losses much of its day -to -day significance. But at the same time, the culture can afford to make marriage more special, more rarified, and more significant in its meaning" (p.201)
In conclusion, early motherhood the United States will continue to be an alarming issue among poor women as long as marriage is viewed as a means of alleviating poverty. According to the book, Kathryn and Maria presents an overview of the reasons behind the high rates of birth among poor women. Among those sharing their experience, attribute early childbearing as a means of attaining a sense of self- worth in their communities and are certain about their fertility. Unlike women who spend most of their years pursuing their careers, they end up marrying late, may lack children and quite a good number end up divorcing their partners .ironically, conservatives and policymakers impose policies like provision of a minimum wage, paid family and childbirth leave, paid sick leave with the expectation that women will embrace marriages . Conversely, these women attain economic independence thus losing interest in marriage. In a bid to improve these policies by imposing the benefits and reducing the time frame to acquire these benefits it appears like an attempt to force them into marriage. When offering long term assistance to these women, it is important to point out the key factors that make them result in early motherhood. In addition, all women should be at liberty to decide their convenient time to be mothers.
Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2006). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage.
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