Rosanna Hertz Elected President of Eastern Sociological Society
Book on Single Motherhood Garners Academic Acclaim

Feb. 20, 2008
Arlie Corday

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- Rosanna Hertz, chair of the women's studies department and member of the sociology department at Wellesley College, has been elected the 80th president of the Eastern Sociological Society, the oldest regional association of sociology. She will serve as president-elect for 2008-2009 and president for 2009-2010.

In addition, her newest book, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women Are Choosing Parenthood without Marriage and Creating the New American Family (Oxford University Press, 2006) has been named Outstanding Academic Title for 2007 by Choice, the review publication for academic libraries. The book was also a finalist for the prestigious 2006 C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. The award honors writing that “critically addresses an issue of contemporary public importance.”

The book looks at the changes occurring in women’s lives. As hopes for marriage fade for middle class women, Hertz notes, their commitment to motherhood continues.

"The potent combination of the age-old desire for motherhood and the new possibilities of science are well on their way to creating major changes in the formation and functioning of families," she said. "This is a projection of a possible future, one that reevaluates the place of women and men in families. Ultimately, building families from a mother-child core is the future."

NEW OPTIONS: Men have always been able to put off marriage and family as long as they like. Women, on the other hand, have those pesky biological clocks, ticking louder all the time. What if Prince Charming never enters the picture? Is that reason enough for a woman to forget her dreams of children and family?

Hertz's studies of single mothers prove a man is not the key to a happy family.She interviewed 65 women from all economic strata, including doctors, financial analysts, teachers and secretaries, all of whom chose the daunting task of single parenthood. Then she talked to them again, at least four years later, to see how their lives had gone in the meanwhile. These women all spoke candidly to Hertz about topics such as:

• How they came about the decision to become single mothers – which, for many, meant pursuing the dream they had always had of motherhood
• How they broke the news to parents, siblings, friends and co-workers
• How they went about becoming mothers with paths ranging from buying sperm from fertility banks to adopting children of different races to chancing pregnancy
• How they combine being single (and looking for romance) with parenting
• How they juggle earning a paycheck with parenting
• How they incorporate men into their child-centered families
• How their lives have changed since becoming mothers and where they are now

One way single mothers manage is by using what Hertz calls “social nesting.”

“The women I studied celebrated motherhood by including their close friends and families in the early milestones of parenthood,” she said. “They were not mother and child against the world but part of a broader group of people chosen—and willing—to support them.”

Today women can order sperm on the Internet, putting them completely in charge of their reproductive lives. However, most mothers who go it alone to produce a family are “reluctant revolutionaries,” said Hertz.

“Women still prefer to parent with one other parent, and the wish among heterosexual women for a dad for their children remains strong,” she said. But as science and society find ways to allow women to become single parents, the world is welcoming a new family unit: mother and child.

“We can no longer deny that the core of family life is the mother and her children,” writes Hertz. “Marriage was once the only socially sanctioned way to have a child, just as sex was once coupled with procreation. Even though it still takes both sexes to create a baby, only the availability of both sets of gametes is essential. This sea change is rendering sexual intimacy between husbands and wives obsolete as the critical familial bond.”

Hertz explores what happens when a woman decides to become a single mother. She takes a hard look at the worlds they create, where most juggle careers and motherhood as the family’s sole breadwinner.

Melissa, one of Hertz’s interviewees, talks about explaining their sperm donor father to her children. “I mean, they’re really young, and I guess I’ll just tell them the basics, which is ‘Your father is in California,’” she said, knowing that’s where many American sperm banks are located. “I think we’re all going to be telling them (that and) everybody is going to think their father is in California.”

When the children are older, Melissa plans to give them more information from the donor profile she has on file.

Others took different routes: Single mother Janica, for example, decided to adopt a child at age 34 with help from her mother. “My mother was living with me,” she said, “and she went with me to a lot of these things about adopting because … she was going to be very involved. We talked about the commitment, prior to that, and she agreed to be a partner with me in this.”

Hertz’s book shows that today’s family is as varied as the individuals who comprise them. Science and society in the 21st century has anointed women with the freedom to choose single motherhood – giving birth to a new American family.