As Christy Everson was nearing age 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 - or 42 percent - would consider having a child on their own without a partner, including more than a third, or 37 percent, who would consider adopting solo.
The poll, which addressed a broad range of issues on America's changing family structures, dovetails with a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau that single motherhood is on the rise: It found that of 4.1 million women who had given birth in 2011, 36 percent were unmarried at the time of the survey, an increase from 31 percent in 2005.
The AP-WE tv 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 some two-thirds - or 64 percent - saying single women having children without a partner is a bad thing for society. More men - 68 percent - felt that way, compared with 59 percent of women.
The survey found broad gender gaps on many issues related to how and when to have children. One example: At a time when the can-you-have-it-all debate rages for working mothers, women were more apt than men to say having children has negatively impacted their career.
And this was true especially among mothers who waited until age 30 or older to have children. Fully 47 percent of those mothers said having a child had a negative impact on their careers.
Joyce Chen, a hospital occupational therapist in San Francisco and a single mother, is happy to have work that she not only enjoys, but that she can balance easily with caring for her 10-year-old daughter. "I've been blessed," she says. "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."
While 42 percent of unmarried women said they would consider single parenthood, compared with 24 percent of men, answers varied greatly as to the ways they'd consider going about it. Thirty-seven percent of women said they'd consider adopting solo (compared with 19 percent of men), about a third of women - 31 percent - said they'd consider freezing their eggs, and 27 percent would be willing to use artificial insemination and 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 - though she's currently in a relationship headed towards marriage. 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.
The Changing American family
An Associated Press-WE tv poll took a deep look at how Americans under age 50 feel about having children, single parents and changing family structures. Some highlights:
- In the poll, 31 percent of all parents reported being unmarried when they had their first child. About half (47 percent) of currently unmarried women in this age group are mothers.
- Nearly half (45 percent) say the growing variety of family arrangements in the U.S. doesn't really have much impact on society, with the remainder divided on whether they make a positive impact (28 percent) or a negative one (26 percent). Women tilt toward calling new arrangements positive (31 percent say so compared with 23 percent who say it's a bad thing) and men are split nearly evenly (29 percent say they're bad, 25 percent good).
- On the other hand, 64 percent call single women having children a bad thing for society. Even mothers who had their first child while unmarried express concern that increasing numbers of solo moms are bad for society - 49 percent say so compared with 11 percent who say it's a good thing and 40 percent who say it doesn't make much difference.