Haas Scholars

China Star

'You Aren't the First and You Won't be the Last': Unmarried Motherhood in Contemporary Rural Ireland

My research examines the changes in the prevalence of unmarried mothers in Ireland nearly a 20% between 1988 and 1999, the church and community response towards these women, and alternative interpretations of the lifestyles and demographics of single mothers. In recent years the response towards single parents has moved from one of social exclusion, condemnation towards one of outward acceptance and coping, a shift clearly influenced by the increasing prevalence of unmarried mothers and on account of moral condemnation of the alternatives of social exclusion of the mother and her child, adoption and abortion. Members of the clergy and other religious cite similar reasons for their own acceptance of single parents and for the Churchs changing attitude towards those who might have previously fallen outside the pale. I have chosen to focus on limited number of case studies and allowing for voices to be given to a few of the people who make up the statistics in an area which has received little attention in other research on the subject. Perhaps in light of this approach the women I worked with differ from those described in previous qualitative studies. The issues surrounding single parenthood in Ireland also lead to broader questions concerning the meanings of marriage, religion, sexuality and family in a rapidly changing society.

  • Major: Anthropology
  • Mentor: Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Anthropology