As Christy Everson was nearing 40, she made a decision: She wanted to have a child, even though she was single and it meant doing it alone. Her daughter, conceived via a sperm donor, is now 2 1/2 years old, and Everson hopes to have a second child.
“Was it worthwhile? Well, I’m thinking of doing it again, aren’t I?” she says.
Everson and women like her are part of a shift in American society. An Associated Press-WE tv poll of people under 50 found that more than 2 in 5 unmarried women without children (42 percent) would consider having a child without a partner.
The poll dovetails with a recent U.S. Census Bureau report that single motherhood is on the rise: It found that of 4.1 million women who’d given birth in 2011, 36 percent were unmarried at the time of the survey, an increase from 31 percent in 2005. Among mothers 20 to 24, the figure was 62 percent.
The AP poll also found that few Americans think the growing variety of family arrangements is bad for society. However, many have some qualms about single mothers, with 64 percent saying single women having children without a partner is a bad thing for society. More men (68 percent) felt that way, compared to 59 percent of women.
The survey found broad gender gaps on many issues. Women, for example, were more apt than men to say that having children has negatively impacted their career. This was true especially among mothers who waited until age 30 or older to have children, with 47 percent saying parenthood had a negative impact on their careers. Of women overall, 32 percent of mothers reported a negative effect, compared with 10 percent of men.
For Everson, who lives in a suburb of Minneapolis and is now 44, being the only parent means daily responsibilities that that take time from her career as a financial consultant.
“To be honest about it, it’s hard to be a rock star” when parenting a baby, she says. But she sees it as a temporary career setback. “I’ll be getting back on my A-game,” she says.
For Joyce Chen, an occupational therapist in San Francisco, it’s a question of what kind of career she wants to have. Chen, 41 and also a single mother, is happy to have work she can balance easily with caring for her 10-year-old daughter. “I have a decent income. I don’t feel like I need to climb the ladder. I enjoy what I do, but I can leave it at the end of the day and not think about it.”
Forty-two percent of unmarried women said they would consider single parenthood, compared with 24 percent of men, with 37 percent of women saying they’d consider adopting solo, 31 percent saying they’d consider freezing their eggs, and 27 percent saying they’d be willing to use donor sperm.
Stacey Ehlinder, a 28-year-old event planner in Denver, says she would consider some of those options at some point if necessary. She says she’s surprised by the high percentage of poll respondents who had doubts about single mothers. “It just seems like these days there are so many more definitions of a family,” she says.
Many respondents, in interviews, said that while the optimal situation for raising kids is two parents, there’s no prescription for the perfect family.
Matthew Dean, a father of three in San Antonio, Texas, said he was glad that his wife, a former teacher, is able to stay home with their kids. Still, he says, he understands that many different arrangements work, including single-parent families.
“It’s maybe not preferred, but it is what it is,” says Dean, 46. “It’s an added challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. There’s no guarantee in any situation. People can have a two-parent situation that is a complete wreck.”
The poll, conducted May 15-23, involved online interviews with 1,277 people age 18 to 49. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.