We all know the truth is more complex than that. In addition to all the gay, lesbian and transgender parents, single parents and other alternative family structures, there are many women who have children with more than one man during their lifetimes.
In fact, more than a quarter of American women who have more than one child have children by more than one father.
The trend is especially commonplace among African-American women, where more than half have children by multiple fathers. Amongst Hispanics the figure is more than a third. For white women, it’s 22%.
This isn’t just an odd demographic trend. According to TIME’s health blog, it’s a factor in perpetuating poverty among disadvantaged families. Researcher Cassandra Dorius has just completed an analysis of data on 4,000 women collected over a 20 year period. She told TIME:
Raising children who have different fathers is a major factor in the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. Juggling all the different needs and demands of fathers in at least two households, four or more pairs of grandparents, and two or more children creates a huge set of chronic stressors that families have to deal with for decades.
Being a stepparent myself, I’m familiar with some of the logistical and financial stresses that befall blended families. I wouldn’t trade my amazing stepson for anything, but having him means having another child in our family. In addition to the regular expenses any child brings, there are transportation costs and scheduling stresses. It’s just the reality of our life, but it includes challenges more traditional families don’t have to face.
My family is solidly middle class, which Cassandra notes makes a big difference in a family’s ability to cope with the stressors she talks about. It’s really poor, marginalized families that suffer most having multiple fathers to a woman’s different children.
Also in my family’s case, my husband was married for ten years to his first wife, and is now married to me. We have a very stable family. Many of the cases Dorius looked at involve parents who were never married. In 10% of the families, the moms never knew the fathers well at all.
I wonder how much the real culprit is the poverty, lack of education, racism and other factors that effect these families? Are families with half-siblings really under extra pressure, or is it just more common to have half-siblings in households that are experiencing a lot of other disadvantages?