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Possibility for 50% of Southland Women : Unwed Motherhood Gains Approval in UCLA Poll

Times Staff Writer

Half of Southern California women would consider having children without a husband or a live-in partner if they were childless and approaching the end of child-bearing age, a UCLA social survey has found.

Only 10% of childless respondents said they do not want children, with the majority citing lack of money and time as the main reasons they have postponed pregnancy.

Social psychologist Belinda Tucker, who oversaw the marital questions on the survey, said the results reflect “some estrangement of men from family and a notion that it is acceptable to do without men. That’s the downside. The upside is that people are more accepting of a range of family alternatives.”

Questions about love and marriage were added this year to the university’s annual Southern California Social Survey, which measures changing attitudes in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.

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The questions were added, Tucker said, “because marriage behavior has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years. More Americans stay single or marry later, divorce is still high, and some groups are far less likely to remarry than others. We wanted to explore what was driving this change--a fundamental shift in values or structural changes, such as a man shortage or unemployment (which makes men seem less viable as partners). We found that both contributed.”

Tucker said she had no data to compare the survey results with attitudes in other parts of the country, “but I suspect the findings would not be that different from what we would find in the Northeast. My impression is that the South might look different.”

The researchers--who polled nearly 1,000 randomly selected people, ranging in age from 18 to 92, by telephone last month--also found a high acceptance of interracial marriages and an emphasis on sexual fidelity as a key to successful marriages, both surprising to Tucker.

More than two-thirds of the respondents said they would consider marrying a person of another race or ethnic group, while only 40% even “approved” of interracial marriages in another study six years ago, Tucker said.

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In the current study, the factors most often mentioned as extremely important to marital success were fidelity, followed by lifelong commitment, love and a good sexual relationship. Two-thirds thought enough money important, but having children and coming from the same social, religious or racial background were mentioned by less than half.

The survey polled attitudes, not actual behavior, which can differ markedly. While approval of unmarried mothers and interracial marriages has dramatically increased in recent years, less than 10% of U.S. births are to unwed mothers over 30 years old. Likewise, only 1.7% of U.S. marriages are interracial, according to the most recent statistics available.

Marriage counselor Marcia Lasswell, a clinical professor of sociology at USC, said the “thought process is all the survey is really measuring. It’s certainly not measuring what people have done or what they’re likely to do.”

She said the attitudes toward having children is “sensational, but probably doesn’t mean a thing.”

Tucker said that of the 446 men and 546 women questioned, 46% were married, 14% divorced or separated, and 7% widowed; 32% were single and 12% of those were living with someone.

Seventy percent said they consider having children very or extremely important, while 63% said being married was very or extremely important; 79% (including men and women) said it is important to be married before having children.

Singles, when asked why they were not married, cited most often career or school demands and not enough partners who meet their standards, followed by a feeling that they did not have enough money to support a family and were having fun “playing around.”

6% Not Dating at All

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Seventy percent said they wanted to get married or remarried, and about half said the threat of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases had caused them to change their dating behavior. Six percent said they were not dating at all.

The survey, now in its fifth year, generates information for community leaders and policy-makers in the Los Angeles area by questioning residents on more than 50 topics of social, political and economic concern. It is conducted by UCLA’s Institute for Social Science Research under the direction of Marilynn Brewer. The margin of error in the survey is plus or minus 3%.

Other findings from the survey include:

Only 19% expressed “a lot of confidence” in the public schools, but 31% gave them a grade of “A” or “B” in a separate question.

More than half said the environment in Southern California has gotten worse over the last five years.

One-third believe all adults over 18 should be tested for AIDS.

More than one-third said gang violence is a very or somewhat serious problem in their neighborhood.

More than two-thirds said the quality of life in Los Angeles has deteriorated, but the majority was satisfied with their housing and felt it was affordable.

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Sixteen percent of the respondents have been victims of crime in the last year, and another 42% think it likely or somewhat likely that they will be during the next year.

Ninety-two percent of Southern Californians believe providing adequate services for the elderly is “a serious problem,” and three-fourths said the government should spend more on programs for them.

Seventeen percent are worried about losing their jobs in the next six months, while 38% say their family is better off financially than a year ago and more than half say they are optimistic that their financial situations will improve. They were equally divided, however, on whether the country as a whole will have good times or widespread unemployment or a depression.


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