Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage 2nd Revised edition Edition

31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520248199
ISBN-10: 0520248198
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Editorial Reviews


“A seminal book.”
(Time Magazine 2009-07-13)

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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (March 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520248198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520248199
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

147 of 152 people found the following review helpful By L. Gunlogson on November 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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 By Robin Orlowski on August 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By J. Akil on November 4, 2006
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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