More '90s women are attracted to single parenthood


Seattle -- If there's a difficult or nontraditional way to do something, "Carol will find it," says her mother, Edna Bennett, with an amused and loving look.

Thus, when Carol Bennett learned she was pregnant at age 30 last year, she decided to become a mother even though she wasn't married.

Soon after, she learned "the baby" would be "twins."

Audre and Iris were born in June.

"I've chosen to do this because I am able. I want to be a parent. And I think I'm intelligent enough," says Ms. Bennett, settled on her living-room sofa during an interview in late July.

So it goes in the '90s, as the Census Bureau recently confirmed.

Single women in this country are having babies at a sharply growing rate. Almost one in four (25 percent) of all never-married women ages 18 to 44 had a child as of 1992, compared to one in seven (15 percent) 10 years ago.

The most dramatic percentage increases -- more than double what they were a decade ago -- occurred among white women and women who have one or more years of college and women with professional or managerial jobs.

Obviously, traditional marriage is not thought of as the necessary means to an end anymore.

"There is a social change going on. The social stigma is slowly decreasing. Maybe it will eventually disappear," says Amara Bachu, author of the Census Bureau report.

The census takers didn't ask why more and more single adult women are choosing to parent alone.

But there are plenty of educated guesses.

"The statistics indicated that these women are both socially and economically independent, stable with their lives. They have money and the means to have a child without being married," says Ms. Bachu in Washington, D.C.

Also, in this age of readily available abortion or adoption, having a baby must be something they really want, husband or not.

"Women have this biological urge at a point in their lives when they're not going to have the opportunity to do it much longer," says Carol Bennett.

Ms. Bennett recently completed her master's degree in fine arts at the University of Washington and has set things up so she can stay home with her daughters for two years.

She always knew she wanted to have children and strongly preferred to parent while she's relatively young. But divorced after a two-year marriage in her mid-20s, she hasn't met a man recently whom she'd like to wed.

As one of her professional associates recently observed: "Husbands just aren't the option they used to be."

Some women are in a stable relationship when they become pregnant, but aren't interested in or ready for marriage.

"We didn't want to try and fake people out and get married really quick. We just chose to have the baby and deal with the marriage later," says Hannah Kunz, 24, who has a bachelor's degree from Seattle University and whose most recent job was as a legal clerk.

Ms. Kunz and her partner, Pat McDonald, are parents of a 3-month-old-girl. Abortion was not an option they believed in for themselves. Though Ms. Kunz made the decision with her partner to keep the baby, she also knew she was making it alone. If Mr. McDonald left, she'd still be pregnant.

"I can take care of this child very well and I can do this on my own . . . even if this doesn't work with my partner."

While some men do leave, Mr. McDonald has no such plans.

"It just wouldn't wash for me. I'd kind of feel like everything I've committed myself to in my life I'd thrown away. There's nothing out there that's better."

As a result, he's put on hold his plans for graduate school so he can support "the family" while Ms. Kunz goes for her master's degree first.

For some women, pregnancy out of wedlock is no accident.

"Some get pregnant by friends," says Julie Sonneman-Chang, who sees a fair number of single mothers in the childbirth education classes she teaches in the Seattle community. "Or it can be a sperm bank. . . . It decreases the chance there will be a paternity problem down the line."


Here are national resources for single mothers:

* The National Organization of Single Mothers: P.O. Box 68, Midland, N.C. 28107-0068. Send a self-addressed, double-stamped envelope for information about the group and a free copy of the newsletter SingleMOTHER.

* Single Mothers by Choice, a national support organization with members in many states. Call (212) 988-0993 in New York for an informational brochure.

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