Serial sexual relationships, multi-partner fertility, single motherhood and fatherlessness

A man leading a woman upward
A man leading a woman upward

Here’s an article from the policy journal National Affairs (editor is Yuval Levin) that has some statistics about single motherhood by choice. When you are reading the article, keep in mind that most people who lean left are so influenced by feminism that they seem to think that women trip and fall accidentally, and end up pregnant from random men. I don’t think that we should minimize the fact that most women freely choose the men who treat them badly.


Pew Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys indicate that, on a range of measures, a very large share of fathers who do not live with their children have virtually no meaningful relationship with their non-custodial children. More than one-half report that they had not shared a meal with their non-custodial children in the last four weeks, while nearly two-thirds had not read to their children and a full three-quarters had not done homework with them. Moreover, these are self-reported figures, so the share of fathers with no relationship to their non-custodial children is most likely even higher.

When fathers form new romantic partnerships, their involvement with children from previous relationships declines. Jo Jones and William Mosher report that, while 39% of fathers in new romantic relationships had shared a meal with their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 62% of those not in a new romantic relationship had. While 55% of fathers in a new romantic relationship had spoken with their 5- to 18-year-old non-custodial children, 77% of those not in a new romantic relationship had.

In addition, men with less education are more likely to exhibit absent-father behavior. Whereas 70% of fathers with at least some college had talked to their non-custodial 5- to 18-year-old children at least once in the past month, 59% of those with no more than a high-school degree had done so. While 74% of fathers with at least some college had played with their non-custodial child under 5 years old at least once in the past month, only 53% of those fathers with no more than a high-school degree had.

Multi-partner fertility is not only associated with father abandonment, it also adversely impacts child-maltreatment rates. Women attempting to balance work, the demands of new relationships, and the challenges of raising children are faced with a set of chronic stressors that often lead to child abuse and neglect. The shift from welfare to work increased these stresses. Partially as a result, between 1993 and 2005, the rate of overall abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and serious abuse, respectively, rose by 22%, 14%, 49%, and 34% for children living with single mothers. By contrast, for children living in two-parent households, child-abuse rates fell on each of the four measures (by 42%, 24%, 62%, and 37%, respectively). By 2005, the child-abuse rate was 2.9 per 1,000 for children living with married biological parents but 10.2 for those living with a single parent and no partner, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This disparity cannot be explained solely by socioeconomic status since the abuse rate for children in families of all kinds in the lowest socioeconomic group was still lower than that for children living in single-parent households.

Multi-partner fertility also increases child-abuse rates in a second way: the presence of non-biological fathers in the house. Child abuse in households with single mothers triples when they live with a man other than the child’s father. Child-maltreatment rates are actually lower in black than white households when the mother lives alone. But unfortunately, many men bring their job and other frustrations into the home, creating abusive situations. As a result, when a partner is present, the black rates on all three measures of child maltreatment — emotional, physical, and endangerment — are almost double the white rates. In addition, rates of intimate violence are over 12 times higher for single mothers than for married mothers.

Edin and Nelson ignore the subject of abusive behavior in men. Instead, despite the fathers’ caring attitudes, we are told, the mothers kick them out because they don’t earn sufficient income. And on the impact of multi-partner fertility on children, Doing the Best I Can offers one benign sentence: “Kids are amazingly resilient, but the rate of family change among children of unwed fathers has become so rapid, and now leads to such complicated family structures, that kids might have a hard time adjusting.”

Academic studies paint a much grimmer picture. After surveying the evidence, Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks concluded earlier this year,

[A] father’s absence increases antisocial behavior [among children], such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. These antisocial behaviors affect high school completion independent of a child’s verbal and math scores. Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment…by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control.

The effects of growing up without both parents when it comes to aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls. Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan found in 2011 that the behavior of boys is far more dependent upon good parenting practices — spending time with a child, emotional closeness, and avoiding harsh discipline — than that of girls. Such parenting habits are far more common in two-parent families, which helps to explain why boys with absent fathers are more likely to be suspended and have other behavioral problems than boys who have both parents at home.

The evidence also indicates that the outcomes are most negative when a man other than the biological father is present. Cassandra Dorius and Karen Guzzo found that “adolescents with a half-sibling with a different father are about 65 percent more likely to have used marijuana, uppers, inhalants, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, sedatives, or other drugs by the time of their 15th birthday than those who have only full siblings.” Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan reported in 2004 that, among fatherless boys, those who lived with stepfathers were at an even greater risk of incarceration than those who lived with a single mother.

I think in today’s society, there seems to be a lot of fear and trembling to speak about moral standards. And it seems to be especially true that men are not allowed to tell women about their moral obligations. I know that at least when I speak to young women, they are often very rebellious. The attitude I encounter most often is that they feel that they should be able to trust their feelings and act in the way that their feelings dictate. Any destructiveness that results – which I warned them about – is dismissed as “unexpected”.

I can clearly remember the first time this happened to me, when I was in high school. I was friends with a girl named Tara who would come over and speak to me before morning announcements. She would tell me about her stock car driving boyfriend. One day, she told me that she was moving in with him. I warned her against it, and listed off a bunch of statistics about how this would cause problems. She stopped coming to talk to me, and so did her best female friend. Well, a few years later I ran into her again at one of our local universities where I was an undergraduate. She filled me in on what had happened. He had cheated on her with her best friend in their house. He got her pregnant. She had an abortion. She knew better now, but back in high school I was easily dismissed, and all of her friends sided with her.

Whenever I try to produce evidence to say that something is likely to cause harm, the response is usually “well I know a person who broke the rules and nothing happened”. I produce statistics about some likely consequence of following your heart, and it’s dismissed because some Hollywood celebrity managed to escape the probabilities. “Don’t judge me!” they say. Happiness comes first, and the best way to decide how to be happy in the long-term is apparently to do what makes a person feel happy right now. But statistics are there to tell a story of how the world normally works – dismissing it all with individual cases is bad logic. There are consequences to following your feelings and dismissing moral obligations.

10 thoughts on “Serial sexual relationships, multi-partner fertility, single motherhood and fatherlessness”

  1. “I don’t think that we should minimize the fact that most women freely choose the men who treat them badly.”

    I think it’s actually a bit more complicated. Women are great cultural followers, almost like a herd of wildebeests sometimes. Women have been led to chose men who treat them badly, led to seek single parenthood, led into promiscuity. Many women have grown up with few positive role models, fathers, men, to teach them anything different. So yes, women freely choose, but there is agency and there is “agency.”

    One college girl once told me, “I’m having sex I don’t enjoy with men I don’t like for reasons I can’t fathom.” That is how lost and confused many women are these days. And they have the culture coming at them 24/7 telling them to follow this path, this is freedom, this is empowerment.


    1. I know. I try to ask all the women I know who are Christians now what they were thinking by hooking up and shacking up with atheists. The best answer I have is that they accepted a society-created definition of what a good man was, and then did whatever was needed to get him so that they could feel accepted and to be accepted by their peers. This includes having sex with men, which made them feel accepted. One woman told me that it was the easiest way to control a man without having to care what he thought. I.e. – she could get the attention of a man without having to care what he wanted, whether it was good or bad. Men learn to keep the sex coming by telling women to do whatever makes them happy, even if they know it will end badly for her.

      But they admit now that rationally speaking, there was no way that the guys could perform ALL the roles a man does in a marriage. Either he was going to fail at provider, or protector (including fidelity to her), or he was going to fail at moral/spiritual leadership. So they chose what they thought was expected of him, did whatever he wanted to keep him, and there was no future. They never could connect what they were doing to the future LOGICALLY. It was just “let me do what I want now, and I can imagine where I want to be later”. But you can’t get there from here. That’s the problem – connecting happy long-term goals to decisions being made right now in a realistic, calculated way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Do you think women have a hard time with long term consequences, with cause and effect?

        I tend to think we do. I think we have a biological tendency that puts us in a bit of denial. In order to willingly have a baby for example, many of us have to deny the inevitable pain of childbirth. Babies are uncomfortable, not cost effective, and so if we approached these things from a logical perspective, fully aware of all the consequences, the human race may well have died out long ago.

        Men too, women are often compelled to see the higher selves of men, to envision their potential, rather then the way they really are when we first encounter them, so in some ways, women are playing a guessing game.

        A bit more logic and reason would be nice, but honestly, I’m not sure exactly how much young women are capable of, what is innate to who we are at that stage of our lives.


        1. Yes I do think that, and yet I know that women are SO GOOD at working hard and studying and making deadlines. So it really seems to be limited to connecting the future goals to the steps that go in between in order to reach the goals. Also, I think men and women both have NO IDEA how actions like premarital sex affects them. How it changes their ability to commit and be content with the realities of a committed relationship.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I don’t think young women are incapable of seeing the long-term consequences of their actions and making long-term plans. I do think it is something women are not naturally as inclined to do. Men are more naturally inclined towards long-term planning and goals. Women have to be taught that it’s important to make and work towards long-term goals. But too often in our culture, no one taught them that, especially when they grew up with an absent or uninvolved father (who would be the best person to teach them long-term goal making).

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          1. Perhaps! The flip side of that is that we also have women so focused on long term goals like education and career, they let their biological clock run out and go seeking family in their 40’s.


          2. Yes!!!! I am seeing that a lot. There is absolutely a desire to postpone marriage and parenting in favor of career or just of travel and fun.

            What’s funny is how gullible people can be about it. Women tell their freirnda and family that they want to be married “some day” and then dedicate themselves to fun, travel and career. You have to believe the actions not the words. I just made this mistake with 30-year-old woman so its fresh in my mind.

            If marriage is important, then I expect women to want to get started on it right away, but I’ve seen them wanting to put it off for the last 15 years of talking to them about it. They want fun. And they expect marriage to be free and fun, just with more respectability and financial support. But not with any direction, unity if purpose and accountability.

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          3. Women are strongly taught to postpone marriage by the culture. I myself married very young. Our oldest daughter married at 18. There was some serious opposition to both our marriages. “You have thrown your life away, it won’t last, is this all you think you’re worth, etc.” It really requires some major defiance on the part of women to go up against the culture and defy those memes. Women should however, because often what makes us happy is family, children. To realize that at 40 is kind of depressing, because now the odds are stacked against you.


  2. Getting married at a young age sounds nice, but from I have seen with my friends its difficult. At 18 people are mostly going off to college and no matter what major you are studying whether at a 4 year or 2 year college you need to study & i believe high school doesnt prepare young adults for the hardships of college.

    Not only does a young couple have to deal with the hardships of collge but getting married is not cheap, yes the are ways to lessen the expense of a wedding but even after the wedding the idea next is to have a baby. I worked at babies r us and babies are not cheap. I remember seeing one women she was having triplets so she had to get three of everything and at that time the stuff she really needed she couldnt afford.

    So i can see why parents or society says to majority of the time to women to wait to you finish college to marry because marriage is a commitment its not something one just jumps into. However when it comes to the idea of marriage girls are taught at a young age thats what is expecting of them when they get older, become wives and mothers meanwhile boys are taught when their older to sow their oats before marriage. The toys we buy children enforce gender stereotypes as well.

    I have nothing agains things that are seen as traditional female but it does annoy me that as a women im expecting to clean,cook and bare childen while maintain by beauty and sex appeal. I dont think men or society understands how stressful that is,im 24 and single my mom keeps bring up finding a husband or making sure i dont do anything to my body or she cant marry me off. 1) it makes me sound like an object to be won by a guy. 2)it is stressing me out & causing some depression.


    1. It is difficult to marry young these days unless you have a community around you that encourages early marriage and helps support young couples. It can be done, but it’s not the sort of thing you can count on. I would have been thrilled to marry at 18, but I didn’t find a man that was good husband material until I was 24 (and believe me, I looked).

      I do think, though, that if you have the mindset that you aren’t even looking yet in your mid-20’s (which is probably the peak time to marry, after college is over, but while you’re still young) and you just put finding a marriage partner off until sometime down the road, it can be a bad idea. A lot of people take years to find a suitable mate once they start looking, so if you don’t start looking until your late 20’s or early 30’s, it may be very difficult to find a spouse and might not happen at all.

      It’s even worse these days because of the promiscuity that goes on. The more sexual partners you have, the less likely you are to have a good marriage. And the longer you wait to get married, the greater the number of sexual partners is likely to be (assuming you’re not waiting for marriage, as most don’t these days). Thus, a long wait until marriage, which can be detrimental to the chances of marrying on its own, is made even more detrimental to building a lasting marriage when combined with premarital sex.

      There is certainly more to life than marriage, but marriage is a good thing that most people benefit from (if they do it right). Finding a good spouse is a good thing, not just for the here and now, but for the future. Married people make and save more money than the unmarried. Married people tend to have higher satisfaction in life. Marriage provides protection and security for women and children. But marriage also provides a social safety net and a family structure that provides for people in their old age. No one wants to grow old alone or worry about being stuck in a nursing home where no one cares if they live or die. One generally can’t rely on one’s parents to be there in one’s old age, so a spouse and children are an important source of care and well-being for the elderly.

      It’s also worth mentioning that some of our cultural ideas about marriage are flawed. For example, people think getting married is expensive. It certainly can be if you spend a lot on the wedding. But what people do instead of getting married is shacking up. So they’re still living together. They’re still sharing expenses and having two mouths to feed. Marriage wouldn’t have been any more expensive except for the cost of the ceremony (which can be as low as $20 at your local courthouse).

      As for having babies, yes, they are definitely expensive. But people are still having sex, even without being married. And they still make babies sometimes. So then they either abort them or they go through the same expense of having a baby, only without the stability of marriage to help with that.

      So, really, marriage isn’t any more expensive than what people are already doing with their premarital sex and cohabitation. In fact, given that married people tend to make and save more money (due at least partly to having more concrete plans for the future, different priorities, and a committed partner to help out), not getting married can actually be more expensive than marriage. Refraining from marriage is only cheaper if you’re staying celibate and living more simply than you would if you were married. Unless you’re doing that, you’re probably better off, financially speaking, to get married.


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