As Christy Everson was nearing age 40, she made a decision: She wanted to have a child, even though she was single and it meant doing it all alone. Her daughter, conceived via a sperm donor, is now 2 1/2 years old, and Everson hopes to have a second child.
"Was it worthwhile? Well, I'm thinking of doing it again, aren't I?" she says.
Everson and women like her are part of a shift in American society. An Associated Press-WE tv poll of people under 50 found that more than 2 in 5 unmarried women without children -- or 42 percent -- would consider having a child on their own without a partner, including more than a third, or 37 percent, who would consider adopting solo.
The poll, which addressed a broad range of issues on America's changing family structures, dovetails with a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau that single motherhood is on the rise: It found that of 4.1 million women who'd given birth in 2011, 36 percent were unmarried at the time of the survey, an increase from 31 percent in 2005. And among mothers 20-24, the percentage was 62 percent, or six in 10 mothers.
The AP-WE tv poll also found that few Americans think the growing variety of family arrangements is bad for society. However, many have some qualms about single mothers, with some two-thirds -- or 64 percent -- saying single women having children without a partner is a bad thing for society. More men -- 68 percent -- felt that way, compared to 59 percent of women.
The survey found broad gender gaps in opinion on many issues related to how and when to have children. One example: At a time when the can-you-have-it-all debate rages for working mothers, women were more apt than men to say having children has negatively impacted their career.
And this was true especially among mothers who waited until age 30 or older to have children. Fully 47 percent of those mothers said having a child had a negative impact on their careers. Of women overall, 32 percent of mothers reported a negative effect, compared with 10 percent of men.
For Everson, who lives in a suburb of Minneapolis and is now 44, being the only parent means daily responsibilities that naturally suck up some of the time she used to spend on her career as a financial consultant.
"To be honest about it, it's hard to be a rock star" when parenting a baby, she says. But she sees it as more of a temporary career setback, and feels she's already getting back on track with her toddler now over age 2. Soon, she says, "I'll be getting back on my A-game."
For Joyce Chen, a hospital occupational therapist in San Francisco, it's a question of what kind of career she wants to have. Chen, 41 and also a single mother, is happy to have work that she not only enjoys, but that she can balance easily with caring for her 10-year-old daughter. "I've been blessed," she says. "I have a decent income. I don't feel like I need to climb the ladder. I enjoy what I do, but I can leave it at the end of the day and not think about it."
Chen also credits a strong community of friends from church for helping make her family work. "That community has helped me raise my daughter," she says. She hopes to get married one day if the right situation comes along.
But Chen feels that a single mom can do just as good a job of raising a child as two parents can. Overall, the poll found decidedly mixed results on that question: Thirty percent of respondents said yes, 27 percent said no, and 43 percent said "it depends."
At 26, Jacqueline Encinias is at a much less established point in her career. A married mother of a month-old baby in Albuquerque, N.M., she aims to go back to school to study accounting. For now, though, she says she's "just looking for something to get me by." Encinias says that she would probably not have made the choice to be a mother alone.
"I wouldn't want my child to grow up with just one parent," she says. "If other people want to do it, it's OK, but it's not for me." Support of a partner is crucial to her, she says. (Finding the right person to parent with was a key factor in the decision to have a child, the poll found, cited by both current parents and non-parents.)