New study finds that unmarried women can harm their children by dating

Marriage proponent Maggie Gallagher writing in Human Events.


Marriage matters, but why?

For more than 20 years, social scientists have consistently found that children do better raised by their mothers and fathers united by marriage.

For most of that time policymakers have focused on the problem of “father absence,” and it is a real problem. Very few boys and girls have involved, loving, supportive fathers if the man that made them is not married to their mama.

But a new crop of research is challenging the idea that the main or only problem with the decline of marriage is the absence of fathers. An equally big or even bigger problem may be the churning romantic lives of unmarried and divorced mothers.

[…]It’s not just cohabitation that puts children at risk; it’s dating instability as well. Even after controlling for the parent’s marital status at birth, maternal age, race, immigrant status, parents’ education, poverty, gender and low birth weight, the researchers conclude:

“We found that both types of partnership instability (coresidential and dating) are associated with lower verbal ability, more externalizing problems and more social problems, and that coresidential instability is associated with attention problems. Our study is the first to provide strong empirical evidence that dating transitions are similar to marital and cohabiting transitions in terms of their association with children’s school readiness.”

The dating lives of mothers who are not married when their children are born are particularly tumultuous as the researchers note:

“Half of children born to unmarried parents experience three or more changes by age 5. … These findings suggest that children born into alternative family forms are at a significantly higher risk for both academic and behavioral problems at school entry.”

This is an issue that I have long been interested in having observed the effects of this problem firsthand with my friends whose parents were going through divorces. In fact, this situation is even touched on in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, when Hamlet’s mother remarries very soon and throws Hamlet’s world into turmoil.

5 thoughts on “New study finds that unmarried women can harm their children by dating”

  1. It’s good that your post title said “can”, not “will”. I know someone well who was a single mom who subsequently met a principled, kind, responsible, intelligent man whom she married and who made a wonderful stapdad to her first son and dad to their subsequent children.

    I think a major factor in this is whether such women are good at being selective with men. Often, women in such a situation have made poor choices in men in the past, resulting in an absent father to their child, and they continue to make poor choices because they don’t recognize the destructive dating patterns they’re in. They may also feel that they’re not able to be as selective, seeing as having a child already will be something that puts many men off, so they may settle for unsuitable men and compromise in an attempt to keep a man who is interested. The irony is that women with children need to be especially selective of what man they allow into their lives, even at the dating stage, precisely because of their children. Live-in boyfriends are a really bad idea for any woman, but they’re hugely destructive to any children she may have.

  2. The idea that there is a way to be selective is wishful thinking: there is no “boyfriend store” where one can weed through a bunch of choices and pick the best one.

    Indeed, the end product of being truly selective might be that women end up by themselves, as more and more of them are doing. I don’t think that’s a bad choice–I think it’s sometimes the most principled thing to do, because there isn’t a lid for every pot. But WK is bound to disagree. He seems to think that every woman who decides to be single is somehow breaking a moral law. But perhaps I’ve read him wrong. Wintery, would you care to comment?

  3. My borderline / narcissist / dependent mother dated constantly when I was growing up (and still does). What hurt me the most was how she acted like I wasn’t even there while she slathered on make-up for 3 hours a day to look pretty for the sub-75 IQ guys she exclusively dated. To this day I will not talk to a woman who wears make-up unless I have no choice (eg. work), and I hate the whole “mating game” – club scene, bar scene, dating sites, etc. My hatred for the idea of the mating game has kept me single, lonely and intensely unhappy.

    1. I am sorry to hear this John, but I understand. It is incredibly upsetting for a child to see that. Have you ever read the play “Hamlet”? That play reminds me of you. Shakespeare wrote that play to show how utterly disheartening it is for a young man to see his mother act selfishly.

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