What motherhood means to me, or why I keep trying to make art.

In my teenaged youth, I wanted to be married around 17-18 to a thirtysomething older, financially established man.  A major reason was that I thought that was what it would take to be allowed the time and space to be a working artist.

While the wanting to be married to a guy twice my age was a bit silly, the underlying reason was reasonable.  I’ve never viewed myself having marriage and motherhood without also being a working artist.  The three always just went together in my head, and I married a guy who can recognize that this isn’t an unreasonable view or expectation for a married mother to have.  I just managed to find an established older guy who wasn’t twice my age.

Unfortunately, while my husband recognizes this, I can’t say the same about society.  Though it’s always been a struggle for women to have all three, things have worsened, almost counterintuitively as women have gotten more overt financial power.


The college graduate, well-paid never-married single mother is now a thing.

There has arisen a growing class of never-married mothers who have bachelor’s degrees, make $50,000 per year or more, and who do represent a distinct class among college moms with somewhat different goals and desires than the broader married college moms.

For example, this group of mothers is perfectly fine with lots of socialist-type policies and government expansion, as their well-paid professional-managerial class jobs are overwhelmingly in nonprofit and government work.  That “equity coordinator” for the local Chamber of Commerce is likely to be such a mother.  Or a communications director with a school district.  Or a regional manager for a network of homeless shelters.  Or maybe the director of a small local one that caters specifically to teenage mothers.

The wages for all this sort of thing are almost never “six-figure”, but generally in the 25-35 dollars per hour range.  This is well-paying for two people.  These mothers overwhelmingly have one child out of wedlock and don’t have additional children via later marriage.  The broadly modal tendency is to have the child in their late 30s.

Women in this group absolutely have a massive investment in continuing the degree ratchet where more and more degrees are listed in job requirements for the same pay.  Such women also can’t afford private school and generally have a distaste for homeschooling even in areas where academic secular homeschooling is normalized (which is nearly anywhere slightly urban in much of the country).  So they have a strong tendency to support the general “how much more money for public schools? dunno, MORE MORE MORE” position that is not exactly uncommon on the Democrat-voting side of the political aisle.

Counterintuitively, many of these never-married college moms support massive amounts of gun control because they *don’t* live in dangerous gentrifying urban areas, but tend to live the exurb or semi-rural life.  It’s cheaper and since they tend towards government jobs anyway and are generally only supporting two people, they don’t even have to worry about commuting tradeoffs.  So since they tend to live in low crime small cities and towns, it’s all abstract for them.  It’s a very different context than urban, single, childless professional class women who support such things.

And of course, because these women have one child, they tend to support child-friendly things, but child-friendly frequently isn’t mother-friendly unless it’s a mother of one.  They don’t think of, for example, healthcare access in terms of logistics scheduling and wrangling multiple children (among married parents, if you went from bottom quartile to top quartile, the average number of kids would be something like 1/2/2/3) because relatively few of these college moms have 2 kids (and yes, it is usually twins if they do).  They tend to only see that debate in terms of costs and networks.

Anyway, there are a lot of interesting traits to this new self-supporting class of mothers who never marry and have college degrees.  But a major thing is that these women have a lot more free time to be on social media presenting various ideological concepts as normative for college moms in general when that, in fact, is not the case.

Women on the Pill had 20% more sex than women not on it.

There was a lot of research done on the Pill when it was first made available to American women on a mass scale in the early 1960s.  The big takeaway, relevant since use was primarily restricted to already-married women, is that women on the Pill had a higher “coital frequency” than women not on the Pill and that pre-Pill, women were in fact having less sex with their husbands over time to avoid pregnancy.   Marrying young was resulting in not as much sex after the first ten years, due to desire for limiting fertility rather than lack of interest according to separate surveys of husbands and wives.

But once the Pill was introduced, women who went on it had more sex and of course had fewer children.  It sure seemed like cake was being had and eaten too.  This is particularly interesting given that decades later research on women taking the Pill showed it to be heavily correlated with reduced sex interest in women and lower libido.  Thus we have the origin story for the mythical housewife who wasn’t that into it but just trying to keep her man satisfied.

The other thing I just remembered about this is that the Pill was the only contraceptive with a substantial increase in sex-having vs non-Pill users.  Sterilizations on either male or female side, condoms, jellies, and the like never showed people utilizing them to have more sex than people avoiding contraceptive use.

Unmarried first birth percentages for college moms, 2018

From PhD to “never finished”, women of all races, minus California which stopped breaking out marital status in 2017 (it doesn’t change the percentages, the pattern is the same there as well for earlier years).

PhD/Professional: ~7%

MA: ~9%

BA: ~17%

AA: ~33%

Some college without any degree completion: ~57%

For perspective, the level of college education for women of all races aged 25-29 is as follows:

AA or additional education beyond: ~52%

BA or additional education beyond: ~41%

MA or additional education beyond: ~11%

The Boomers’ mothers wanted smaller families.

A great many women who had children from 1955-1964 wanted exactly two children, but due to contraceptive inefficacy compared to the Pill, they ended up with 3+.  And women who wanted large families of 6+ found themselves having around 5-6 with a suspiciously high frequency.

Long story short, even without the Pill, the desire for contracepting into a smaller family was already baked into the postwar cake for American women.  It’s not clear that large family desire is particularly common to American women when they aren’t part of an intensely religious subculture.  Frontier women had large family sizes, but this is confounded by the frontier being a hotbed of highly religious subcultures.

Now the story of how more education for women went from being strongly correlated with fewer kids to…not is a different story, mostly still unwritten by any demographic researcher.

The differences between lefty and righty SAHMs.

Few of the former, but more of them in liberal zip codes among married parents.  More of the latter, but more likely to be mixed in heavily with double-income households.

There’s very few married parents at all in liberal/Democrat-heavy zip codes with high incomes, but the married mothers tend to be SAHMs to men making north of 150k/yr.  So liberal women who stay home with their kids have a tribe and a sense of place because in a major metro there may only be 5 or 10k of them, but they all literally are in the same neighborhoods and constantly could hang out together.

They also don’t shy away from things like hiring au pairs and babysitters while staying home.  Liberal married mothers are substantially more likely to be relaxed about individually choosing to get themselves the things they need as SAHMs, including paid childcare help and being sure to be married to a high-earning provider so they experience zero financial pressure to earn money.  There are lower-income SAHMs who skew liberal, but they tend to not live in the high-income urban zip codes and there’s even fewer of them.

Righty SAHMs, on the other hand, are far more common among married parents as a whole nationwide, but they tend to be scattered within a much bigger and income-diverse group of married parents in the areas they live in.  And they themselves are more likely to be income-diverse, though there’s still very few under 50k/yr.

Thus righty SAHMs are not wrong to feel isolated and odd duck-like.  In a major exurb commuting distance from a Big City, they may well be among 100k other married parents and even 30k or so of SAHMs (i.e., roughly the national-level split between double-income and SAHM households), but they probably only live near a few other SAHMs and they don’t have the homogeneous aspects the lefty SAHMs have.

What’s interesting is that I looked into the matter strictly to see if there was a pattern at all.  It’s one thing to say SAHMs are getting to be a higher and higher income proposition, it’s another to determine if there are political variations.  I didn’t expect to find what I found looking at major metros like Chicago, DC, Seattle or LA, among others.  I looked at Big Cities and outlying exurbs and suburbs in red and purple and blue states alike, and the basic “very few lefty-likely SAHMs, but mostly clustered together plus have top-quarter family incomes for their area” and “many more righty-likely SAHMs, but spanning the top 3 quartiles for their area and not concentrated in the highest one, not much clustering at all” holds up across a wide range of voting patterns.

The lady who lunches is fairly likely a Democrat these days, as is the SAHM with a nanny and two kids in tow.  Or the yoga mom who’s kept her figure after four kids.

But there’s very few of her.  Not many liberal women seem ready or willing to make those arrangements to have families.  And it is interesting to me that while liberal-leaning women want to have kids/form families at much lower rates than right-leaning women, they SAHM at really high rates.


Births by education level, 2016


(click to expand)

What is interesting about this is that education aids in married fertility, but a little goes a long way.  Completing a level of education corresponds to lower out of wedlock birth rate regardless of how high the level of education is.

Thus in a lot of ways, simply having people complete the highest level they reasonably can of education would be a better way to structure the educational system and allow for more options to enter the workforce successfully at younger ages.  This would probably have a side effect of increasing marriage before 25 in a way that favored long-term marital stability.