Thursday, February 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tom Plate / Syndicated columnist

Unmarried, with children

LOS ANGELES — There is a growing sense among experts that the countries of the world with declining birth rates will somehow overcome their problem but in ways that until recently would have been hard to imagine.

Flat or zero growth rates appear to be a characteristic of affluent societies. In Asia, standout examples include South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. These cultures appear to be rich in just about everything except babies.

Coping mechanisms among nations vary; the worried but determined government of Singapore, exercising its nanny-state option, has even funded get-together and mating programs (with, not surprisingly, somewhat less than scintillating success). Now, however, a powerful and visionary new study has examined a startling new approach for women to raise children: that is to say, raising them largely in the absence of men.

Central to the problem under review is the increasing numbers of women who, for whatever reasons, cannot seem to put their hands on a satisfactory male mate. More and more, romantic and parenting relationships do not seem to go together like a horse and carriage. People in increasing numbers prefer to stay single. Educated and financially independent women are especially unwedded to the social norm of requiring a father to be a prerequisite to motherhood.

The proffered panoply of future procreation options marries the notion of single motherhood to either traditional adoption methods or to the recourse to scientific insemination. Women set up family nests either alone, or with other women (and not necessarily in lesbian relationships).

This astonishing brave new world of men-less families is spelled out with encompassing thoughtfulness in the new book "Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice." The author, Rosanna Hertz, is a professor of sociology at Wellesley College, the excellent women's school which numbers Hillary Clinton (class of '69) among its distinguished graduates.

The trend toward largely men-less mothering is so advanced in the United States that chapters of the nationwide organization, "Single Mothers by Choice," have spread to U.S. cities, as if Alcoholics Anonymous clones. SMC runs workshops for would-be single mothers, many of whom are running out of time in the biological fecundity department, and offers single women who have been successful mothers as instructors and role models for would-be successors.

One of their key dilemmas appears to be choosing between a known sperm donor and an anonymous one. The decision can entail huge emotional implications, of course. Women who choose anonymous injection sometimes cultivate the option of having a "social dad" for their kid, a friendly but unromantically involved male who evolves into a functional but un-biological "uncle."

Other women with significant unease about proceeding with anonymous sperm will deliberately seek out the cooperation of gay men, notwithstanding possible genetic implications.

In the U.S., this trend has not quite smashed onto the radar screens of the American political mainstream, much less onto those of the pro-traditional family fundamentalist sector. I can hardly wait! Get prepared for the condemnation of the preachers, not to mention the fleeing to the safety of vagaries of centrist-wannabes like Hillary, running for their political lives as if the issue were a political STD.

Social conservatives will surely have difficulty being comfortable with convincing studies that reveal a greater correlation for juvenile delinquency and the like with poverty than with single-motherhood. It is, in fact, mainly the single mother at the lowest economic rung who appears to be producing the social deviant, not the single mother who has achieved economic success.

But why are women marrying less or waiting so long to take the plunge? Common sense would suggest that either the better-educated women are increasingly fussier about their life-long mating choices, or that their potential male partners are running fast in the other direction — whether because they are too selfish to make the commitment, or are too turned off by females who are at least as well-educated and perhaps even as well-funded.

The answer is probably some combination of the two, but, even so, the days of the male as macho head of household, heroic breadwinner and possible parent-in-chief appear to be numbered. If this is not some kind of profound sociological definition, what is?

Veteran U.S. journalist and UCLA professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is married (long ago), with one biological child.

2007, Tom Plate


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