- 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: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #716,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage 2nd Revised edition Edition
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From the Inside Flap
"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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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. While many of the young women they talked to admitted that they wished they waited to have children, most of them (even girls as young as 16) say they conceived only a year or two before they were "ready." When the authors gave the single mothers an opportunity to explain why they decided to have children so young and before marriage, a common response was that their boyfriends repeatedly whispered the words "I want to have a baby by you," which, in their culture of dating and romance, is the highest form of praise and proof of a willingness to commit. The heady significance of such a declaration is then paired with the high social value that the poor place on having children. Girls from poor neighborhoods often see motherhood as the one aspiration which they can achieve and at which they can excel. While their middle class counterparts assume that college and careers are in their future, poverty-stricken teenagers look for ways in which their lives in the inner city can be improved. Babies are often the answer.
Many of these young mothers actually claim that motherhood saved them from a life of drugs, partying or one in which they had no one to love them. In these neighborhoods, becoming a mother and taking good care of one's children elevates a young woman in the eyes of her peers and the rest of her community in terms of moral stature. It is seen as a sign of maturity and as a mother, she can now command respect. The authors believe that the high value the poor place on having children stems from two sources: fewer opportunities and resources, and stronger absolute preferences.
The authors take us into the lives of single mothers living in eight different neighborhoods and try to shed light on the fact that marriage is just not part of the equation for most of these women. Why not? Edin and Kefalas argue that it is not because there is a lack of marriageable men in the inner city, as some scholars have argued, but rather because these women are not interested in marriage just for the sake of marrying their children's father. They don't want to lose their independence, they don't want to commit to men who may have drug problems or who have beat or cheated on them. In their eyes, marriage has nothing to do with having children, even though many women have hopes that bearing a child will help mold their boyfriends into suitable marriage partners. In fact, we learn about many couples who enjoy a certain honeymoon period when their child is born, reuniting after time spent apart during the pregnancy. But statistically, chances are not good that their plans for the future will become a reality. The authors tell us that by the time their child is one year old, half of all couples have broken up, and by the child's third birthday, two-thirds of all mothers are on their own.
Edin and Kefalas learned from these women that contrary to popular public opinion, poor women who have children out of wedlock actually do value the institution of marriage just as much as middle class women. They dream of marrying good men who will treat them and their children with love and respect. But they differ from their middle class counterparts because they are not willing to wait to find those men in order to have children. However, the authors point out that many single mothers (70 percent) are in fact living with men - boyfriends, fiancés and/or the fathers of at least one of their children. Thus, they argue that the perception of single mothers isn't always accurate, in that these women aren't always heading a household on their own.
The authors argue that action must be taken on a policy level to slow down the rate at which young women are having children out of wedlock, mainly because the children of young mothers have significantly diminished life chances. Edin and Kefalas assert that promoting marriage in and of itself can actually be detrimental to disadvantaged women, as it can only encourage women to enter into or stay in bad relationships. Instead, they think programs aimed at improving the marriage pool for women (i.e., intervening in poor young men's lives before they can get into trouble and convincing them to postpone fatherhood until their late twenties) and at reducing pregnancy among at-risk teens are the surest way to get on the right track towards reducing this trend. They also advocate some form of relationship-skills training for young poor people. However, they believe that the economy needs to be the biggest consideration in the policy equation. Early childbearing is the one way in which the poor establish a sense of self-worth and meaning. If they had greater opportunities in terms of education and jobs and greater access to resources, they would not, in the authors' opinions, be so quick to jump into parenthood.
1. Having children is of paramount important for the mothers. Everything else is secondary. Of secondary importance is things like whether the father is a suitable dad, the exact timing of the pregnancies, means of support, and marital status.
2. Children offer a lot of value to these ladies - Unlike past generations, children provide minimal financial value, but being a good mother gave them status within the community, along with providing a huge amount of purpose and structure for their lives.
3. "I want to have your baby" seems to be the ultimate pickup line - It sounds like just a line to me too, and a corny one at that. But these ladies took it to heart. I wonder if the fathers believed what they were saying at the time they said it.
4. They seemed willing and able to turn their lives around on a dime once the baby is announced, but seemed surprised and disappointed when their partners would not or could not do the same - Quite a few of the men seemed enthusiastic about being fathers at first, but as time wen on, they either wen back to their same immature activities, or developed new immature behaviors.
5. They think they do well enough as mothers, and it's hard for me to disagree - There's a general consensus that if their children are kept clean, fed, taught (to the mother's abilities), kept out of obvious trouble, and given occasional luxuries, then that is good enough. The stuff the middle class thinks is important - like fancy carriages, mounds of toys, expensive mini-vans/SUVs, and college funds - is probably not as important, once I thought about it.
6. The true cost to have children is lower than I expected - Children don't seem to hurt their abilities to find partners (as necessary), doesn't hurt their educational prospects, and doesn't much hurt their job prospects. All of those things are very limited within their neighborhoods and they don't have much upward mobility.
7. Marriage is scarce because it's valued extremely highly - They feel that being married is the crown on top of a life that's fully settled, as opposed to the classic middle class viewpoint that marriage is a first step toward living a happy, fully adult life.
I wish there were more books and more studies like this one to confirm its conclusions and see if attitudes change over time. I'm aware of Ms. Edin's sequel covering inner-city fathers and will eventually read that.