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Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage [Hardcover]

by Kathryn Edin, Maria J. Kefalas
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 8, 2005 0520241134 978-0520241138 1
Millie Acevedo bore her first child before the age of 16 and dropped out of high school to care for her newborn. Now 27, she is the unmarried mother of three and is raising her kids in one of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods. Would she and her children be better off if she had waited to have them and had married their father first? Why do so many poor American youth like Millie continue to have children before they can afford to take care of them?

Over a span of five years, sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas talked in-depth with 162 low-income single moms like Millie to learn how they think about marriage and family. Promises I Can Keep offers an intimate look at what marriage and motherhood mean to these women and provides the most extensive on-the-ground study to date of why they put children before marriage despite the daunting challenges they know lie ahead.

Editorial Reviews


"Edin and Kefalas provide an original and convincing argument for why low-income women continue to embrace motherhood while postponing and raising the bar on marriage. This book is a must read for students of the family as well as for policy makers and practitioners who hope to rebuild marriage in low-income communities." - Sara McLanahan, author of Growing Up with a Single Parent

From the Inside Flap

"This is the most important study ever written on motherhood and marriage among low-income urban women. Edin and Kefalas's timely, engaging, and well-written book is a careful ethnographic study that paints an indelible portrait of family life in poor communities and, in the process, provides incredible insights on the explosion of mother-only families within these communities."—William Julius Wilson, author of The Bridge over the Racial Divide

"This book provides the most insightful and comprehensive account I have read of the reasons why many low-income women postpone marriage but don't postpone childbearing. Edin and Kefalas do an excellent job of illuminating the changing meaning of marriage in American society."—Andrew Cherlin, author of Public and Private Families

“Edin and Kefalas provide an original and convincing argument for why low-income women continue to embrace motherhood while postponing and raising the bar on marriage. This book is a must read for students of the family as well as for policy makers and practitioners who hope to rebuild marriage in low-income communities.”—Sara McLanahan, author of Growing Up with a Single Parent

"Promises I Can Keep is the best kind of exploration: honest, incisive and ever-so-original. It'll make you squirm, and that's a good thing, especially since Edin and Kefalas try to make sense of the biggest demographic shift in the last half century. This is a must read for anyone interested in the tangled intersection of family and public policy."—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520241134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520241138
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
140 of 145 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For Micki - directed reading November 2, 2005
Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas spent five years living with, working with and interviewing poor women from all races and age groups who live in the depressed and poverty stricken neighborhoods of Philadelphia and its poorest industrial suburb, Camden, New Jersey. Armed with the knowledge of intimate details from 162 single mothers' lives that could only be gained by spending years in their company, Edin and Kefalas wrote Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage.

The authors set out to disprove the commonly held stereotypes about poor young women who have children out of wedlock when they are still teenagers or in their early twenties. They assert that most middle class Americans assume that these women are either unable or unwilling to use birth control, or that they are using children as a way to gain access to more welfare benefits. However, in the course of their research, they found this conventional wisdom to be largely untrue. They discovered that these young women are having babies simply because they want to have babies. There are, of course, mitigating factors such as pressure to conceive from a boyfriend or rebellion against parents, but almost all of the single mothers interviewed make it clear that they were happy when they found out they were pregnant and happy to have children, even if the responsibility makes their lives considerably harder.

Edin and Kefalas give us some startling statistics which reveal how widespread the practice of having children out of wedlock has become. In Philadelphia, where the women they interviewed live, more than six out of ten births are now outside of marriage. Across the U.S., that number is one in three.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
The qualitative research in this book explains why so many young women in inner city communities are getting pregnant--and at increasingly younger ages than previous generations of their peers.

1996's welfare reform was driven by the specter of 'lazy' and unmarried teens having litters of children, but this book asks us to consider what responsibility means in neighborhoods with fading and non-existent infrastructure (p. 32).

In these communities having children provides a form of tangible belonging. The kids are not the means to a monthly check, but a way to show the world that 'I had this many strikes against me and I became an adult'. Coming from a middle class background myself, I was particularly struck that these young men are telling women that they want to have a baby with HER eyes (p. 31) because I then realized that a baby would in fact be a representation of the two people having been together at one point.

Ideally they would continue to stay together and raise the kid, but the authors (who previously wrote on urban poverty and welfare issues) also harbor no illusions about the young men who leave during a pregnancy and after a baby is born. Yet they also avoid finger-pointing and moralizing in favor of then examining the role which American society plays in encouraging these young teens to have sex and babies.

Again we go back to the community infrastructure arguments and a disturbing but cognizant picture of complicity develops. Public figures restricting both reproductive and social services in these communities are ironically doing more to encourage subsequent generations to keep having sex.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Put Motherhood Before Marriage? November 4, 2006
By J. Akil
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Often when the question is posed as to why do poor women continue to have children before they are obviously -at least to the majority of Americans it is obvious-in the most opportune position to accomplish the task of parenting successfully, several common responses are usually offered. The most common retort may be that poor women don't have access to low-cost or free contraception and/or abortion providers, followed by claims that these women are just irresponsible and possess low ( or completely lack) moral values. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, poor women have less access to inexpensive contraceptive supplies and behavior that may be common in the ghettoes of America can be starkly contrasted against what is deemed acceptable in middle and upper-class communities. Yet it turns out that these differences have surprisingly little to do with why poor women consistently put motherhood before marriage.

Sociologists Edin and Kefalas spent 5 years interviewing, studying and interacting with a group consisting of one-hundred and sixty-two women from eight impoverished communities to find the real answer to this perturbing question. Along the way Edin and Kefalas dispell the myths and stereotypes pertaining to poor men and women and their attitudes regarding motherhood and marriage. It turns out that rather than viewing marriage as an inconsequential and outdated institution, the interviewies revered marriage. What the authors discovered was that the women held marriage to such a high-standard and erected so many hurdles to be jumped before they would consider getting married that they effectively placed the hallowed institution outside of their reach in the near future.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening book.
This is an amazing book, very enlightening with in-depth interviews that widen our understanding of very difficult issues that are so often viewed with negative stigma. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Barbara Feldmar
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool Book
I really like this book, It has many stories that tug on your heart strings. I am glad I am reading this for class.
Published 14 months ago by Taylor Schreck
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Condition
I was hoping the book purchased would be in great condition and it is. Covers aren't ripped up and the spine of the book is still intact. No complaints from me!

Published 18 months ago by misslee
5.0 out of 5 stars too true-and too tragic to imagine and even more in the result from it
I started out in poverty but wasn't too accepted in that world because I'm part white and too unapologetically intelligent. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Safiya Khadijah Goines
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent book
I bought this book solely for the purpose of writing a paper for a college class. I have to admit I wouldn't have gotten it if I didn't have to. Read more
Published on January 15, 2012 by Lang281
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enlightening
I do volunteer work with women who have decided to choose life for their precious babies. This book has helped me to see the culture of poor women and understand where they're... Read more
Published on May 17, 2011 by cmh1
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating sociological exploration
I work as an attorney for legal services in a poor urban area, and the vast majority of my clients are poor, young mothers who had kids when they were too young and where the... Read more
Published on January 13, 2011 by E. Fields
5.0 out of 5 stars An important study of a relevant subject
I was very interested to learn of this book, because I want to understand a mindset that is so foreign to how I was raised and what I believe in. Read more
Published on June 28, 2010 by Anyechka
3.0 out of 5 stars it's okay
i mainly bought this book for a class i was taking. i think that the book was fair enough. i can understand how the mothers would feel pressure to do good for their children. Read more
Published on June 3, 2010 by M. Lopez
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do we have a 40% illegitimacy rate?
There has never been a country in world history with an illegitimacy rate this high. Yet it new seems standard for all western democracies. Why? Read more
Published on September 4, 2009 by Jeri Nevermind
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