Beyond the Sex-Ed Wars: Addressing Disadvantaged Single Mothers’ Search for Community

55 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2012

See all articles by Helen M. Alvare

Helen M. Alvare

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: September 11, 2012


Despite growing alarm over the nation’s nonmarital birth rate (41%), particularly its links with economic disadvantages, child outcomes and class divisions, federal and state policies have changed little over the past several decades. But a new wave of qualitative and quantitative research on disadvantaged single mothers offers clues regarding what is driving their choices regarding sexual activity, reproduction, and nonmarital birth rates. This paper offers a review and analysis of the leading research in this area and concludes that policymakers have overlooked an important component of single-mothers’ behavior: its “community-facing” aspect. It appears that disadvantaged younger women regularly base their decisions about sex and pregnancy in an important way upon their desires both to create community, and to attain a status in the wider community as a recognized “good citizen.” The very few state-sponsored sex education or “youth development” programs with even moderately successful track records regarding nonmarital births tend to incorporate women’s community-facing orientation into their messages. But most state programs – whether headlined “abstinence” or “comprehensive sex education” programs -- do not. They rather assume that the young woman is oriented almost exclusively toward maximizing her own self-interest. This paper will propose ways in which the state might respect single women’s community-facing orientation and aspirations, and incorporate these more effectively into its speech and its programs treating nonmarital sex and pregnancy.

Keywords: CDC, Centers for Disease Control, contraception, fulfillment, government, health clinics, individual, Kathryn Edin, Lawrence v. Texas, Margaret K. Nelson, Maria Kefalas, marriage, motherhood, parental involvement, Paula England, Planned Parenthood, privacy, reproductive system, values, welfare

JEL Classification: H51, H51, H53, I12, I18, I31, I38

Suggested Citation

Alvare, Helen M., Beyond the Sex-Ed Wars: Addressing Disadvantaged Single Mothers’ Search for Community (September 11, 2012). Akron Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2011, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 12-60, Available at SSRN:

Helen M. Alvare (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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