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Single Mothers

  • By: Diana L. Gustafson
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

A single mother may be a woman with one or more children who was previously married but is now separated, divorced, or widowed, or someone with children who was never married. The marital status of a woman with children has long been an important signifier of her social status, because motherhood was, and still often is, expected to occur within a religiously or legally sanctioned union. Throughout history, women who were unmarried at the time they became mothers were labeled unwed mothers at best and promiscuous at worst, and their children referred to as illegitimate or bastards.

Although social attitudes toward nonmarital parenting tends to be more liberal in North America now than in the past, many teens and women may be avoided by family and ...

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