The Social Economy of Single Motherhood: Raising Children in Rural America
The Social Economy of Single Motherhood is a study of both facts and perceptions of single motherhood in rural Vermont in contrast to more general studies done on urban mothers. It details the circumstances behind every mom interviewed for the study instead of lumping them into the stereotype of single, poor, welfare moms who are just lazy and promiscuous. Many of these women are divorced and left behind husbands for a variety of reasons including abuse or negligence. Most of the single moms in the study were very poor, though a few came from middle class backgrounds and weren’t living in poverty until they had children. The book critiques welfare reform by looking at how it impacts families who aren’t able to make ends meet or don’t have livable wages. What sets this book apart is its focus on the social economy. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not include or acknowledge domestic work in its economic analysis even though, as Nelson writes, our society would collapse without it. Nelson approached this subject in terms of personal exchange and details women who seek friendships with other women of similar circumstances to serve a variety of needs for one another (babysitting, car rides, small loans, etc) with the understanding that everyone will be reciprocal of time and energy given or shared. Nelson chronicles some very disheartening exchanges in this arrangement, including sexual favors for car repairs. The book briefly acknowledges the role that unlivable wages and irresponsible fathers play in these circumstances. The most effective—unintended perhaps—result of this book is that you can’t deny the need these families have. A powerful read.