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Unwed Mothers

  • By: Myrl Coulter
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

An unwed mother is usually not yet a mother, but instead a woman who becomes pregnant before marriage. Although a deceivingly straightforward term on the surface, the label of unwed mother carries far more meaning than merely designating a woman's unmarried status. Widely used in the mid- to late-20th century, references to unwed mothers are heard less often today. Replacement labels such as single or teen mothers have many, but not all, of the same connotations as the category of unwed mothers.

Unwed mothers were often young—many were still in their teen years—and had not yet completed their education thus, the phrase carried widespread negative social judgments that saw these young women as a drain on society, unable to perform their impending mothering duties appropriately, and ...

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