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Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  745 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
Millie Acevedo bore her first child before the age of 16 and dropped out of high school to care for her newborn. Now 27, she is the unmarried mother of three and is raising her kids in one of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods. Would she and her children be better off if she had waited to have them and had married their father first? Why do so many poor American youth li ...more
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published March 8th 2005 by University of California Press (first published 2005)
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Dec 13, 2011 Sophia rated it really liked it
In times of economic uncertainty when 41% of births are to unmarried mothers in this country, poor single mothers are often vilified for their poor life choices. Much is assumed about why they put motherhood before marriage, but Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas actually attempted to find out by spending five years living in the poor inner-city neighborhoods of Philadelphia (where poverty similarly affects women of various racial groups) and interviewing poor single mothers. Promises I can keep: wh ...more
Robert Owen
Jun 09, 2015 Robert Owen rated it it was amazing
Why in God’s name are poor women so prone to having children early and out of wedlock?

On its way to answering this question, “Promises I Can Keep” offers middle-class readers a view into a parallel universe of poverty and the choices it provokes. As one reads of it, the rules governing this seemingly bizarre and counterintuitive world slowly become first logically consistent, then comprehensible and finally, intuitively obvious. The answer, it turns out, is that when viewed from an underprivile
Jan 22, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those who liked Random Family and everyone else
4.5 - One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read that aims to illuminate something through sociological methods. I lopped off half a star because much of the first half of the book can feel like one is reading a laundry list of opinions from women with citations as to where you can find their full story in the book. Lots and lots of 'Deena, 18 year old mother of 2 children ages four and six (covered in chapter 4) thinks......' I feel like the book probably could have been organized better ...more
Mar 31, 2015 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compelling qualitative study of low-income women in Philadelphia and Camden and the curious way in which they build their families - first by having children, then seeking economic stability, and then (perhaps) getting married. I knew many of the facts presented but was surprised to learn that the life trajectory of girls growing up in these communities is pretty much the same whether they have children out of wedlock or not. So much for the idea that they're destroying their futures by not wait ...more
Preethi Krishnan
What a beautiful book! It is one of those few sociology books that makes an academic argument while remaining humane. This book is an important ethnographic work which draws from conversations with 162 low income single mothers in the poor neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Camden. This book certainly manages to debunk some popular myths about single mothers. The title of the book articulates the primary research question driving this book - Why do poor women put motherhood before marriage? By fr ...more
Mar 23, 2009 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-class, nonfic
First, I have to admit I'm super biased. This author was one of my professors and also my major adviser,and I had some poor experiences with both. (a favorite moment was when she was advising me..."Hmm you only got a B in Intro to Sociology, who was your professor?" "You" "oh wow you got a B in Into to Sociology!")

The book was well researched, and she spent a lot of time in the areas, with the mothers doing her interviews. It works as a classroom aide, or for anyone interested in the topic, but
Claire Wessel
May 05, 2010 Claire Wessel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having grown up in a relatively poor urban neighborhood, I definitely saw the difference in attitude towards motherhood as compared to the average middle class person's attitude, and the difference in poor reality versus middle class perception of that reality. This book's research highlights these differences and explains the reality of motherhood among poor women very well. Wonderful research and an interesting read. If you've ever wondered why poor women seem to have children in circumstances ...more
Aug 28, 2007 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Armchair Sociologists
I really enjoyed this book, it explained the cultural reasons behind why low income women often have children before or sans marriage. It really made some positive points and made me look at the issue much more differently. Also, they studied women in Philadelphia and Camden neighborhoods, so I could relate better to the places and issues.
Relying on both ethnographic and (loads of) interview data, these authors do a nice job centering the voices of low-income single moms. They allow these women to answer a question that's often bandied around by politicians, religious figures, social workers and academics. Why do low-income women so often delay marriage in favor of having children? Why do they bring children into the world when they have so few resources themselves?

Instead of taking a moralistic or paternalistic tone, the author
Raven Rakia
Rating these books and I'm starting to realize how terrible academic book titles are. "Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage"--awful fucking title, but the book is a little better besides the fact that I don't even think it's really that important to have this discussion in the first place (who gives a fuck about marriage). But I do like how this book debunks silly myths once again. The conclusion is basically that poverty/no sense of economic mobility made some women decide to have chil ...more
Aug 23, 2008 Meera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in order to give me some insight into the mothers of my patients, as well as my teen patients, as teen parenthood is quite prevalent in my pediatric practice. The authors spent a great deal of time in neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Camden, which also hits close to home.

The stories of the women profiled in this book are so similar to the lives I see every day. While so much they discuss is familiar, the authors offer insights that have really informed my understanding/give co
This is a good companion piece to Code of the Street. Whereas Code of the Street focused on the ethics of males in Philadelphia, Promises I Can Keep does the same with young women. The thesis is very cool: out of wedlock children are a sign of a commitment to marriage as an institution, since these young women feel that the men they have children with are not worthy of marriage. Having children, however, is a source of esteem and love and the offsetting financial impact is so little that it is w ...more
Aug 10, 2016 Katertot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a discussion of why women in poverty choose motherhood early in lives and outside of marriage. While middle class women today generally get an education, get economically established, get married, and then have children, the poor women in Philadelphia interviewed for this book believe the sensible (yet not ideal, they say) is to have children, get economically established, then get married.

One of Edin's major points is that what drives these women to have babies is not increased EI
Okay, so, I admit it. Despite trying very hard to be open-minded and compassionate toward everyone; despite always trying to give others the benefit of the doubt, I have sometimes harbored some very judgey thoughts about poor women who keep having kids.

Like, one or two kids, I can kind of understand, because youth and inexperience and thinking they're in love and whatnot. It's like, okay, not the best thing to happen to you, but it happens. Whatever. I don't know why you chose to keep it, but yo
Apr 06, 2013 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this to get an understanding for the real reasons that poor people have more children, since the commonly repeated stories seemed suspicious. The author's did a great job with their interviews in showing the causes using the actual decisions and thought processes of the people making them. It doesn't leave anything much desired. While it is slightly repetitive, and low on theory, it gets 5 stars for changing what I want out of life.
Jun 22, 2013 Gwern rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly sobering, explains a lot about inner-city illegitimacy, and the best thing I've read about the topic and why women would do something which from far away seems like a completely terrible idea.
Oct 09, 2007 Landismom rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mothers, sociologists
Melissa Becker
Dec 23, 2013 Melissa Becker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a well known bleeding heart liberal, but I will admit to having some pretty unkind thoughts about women who had children that they couldn't afford. "Couldn't Afford" being a judgment call by me, a college educated middle class white woman for whom a teenage pregnancy would have meant the end of the life I had planned for myself.

That was before I read this amazing book which totally opened my eyes to the very logical reason that young women in disadvantaged places have children outside of m
Sep 25, 2014 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Edin gives insight into the rationales and motivations of poor women to become pregnant and keep their children. As one who interacts frequently with these mothers and their children, I found this treatment of the topic fascinating, yet lacking. Edin describes the social taboos of women who go out and party, abuse or aren't with their children, but she never seems to interview these women. Either Edin interviewed only women utterly transformed into angels when they became mothers, or she isn't g ...more
Shannon Baker
Aug 02, 2014 Shannon Baker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why do some poor, single women become mothers? This is a well-researched and thoughtful book that had surprising (for me!) and revealing insights into this question I certainly had not thought about. It deepened my understanding and connection to other mothers, who like me, deeply love and want the best for their children, but unlike me, recognized early on that children are more important than other achievements in life and may be the best thing they can hope for given their socio-economic real ...more
Feb 18, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dissertation
First, I'll answer the title's indirect question. The (American) poor women Edin & Kefelas interviewed prioritize mothering over career in their teens and twenties. They believe this the more natural and selfless choice, typically taking their unplanned pregnancies as a sign it's time to grow up. Like middle-class women, they want to delay marriage until they've achieved some economic success. Unlike middle-class women, they believe they can achieve their career and personal goals while moth ...more
Jan 01, 2014 Zibei rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
pp171 "Poor youth are driven by a logic that is profoundly counterintuitive to their middle-class critics, who sometimes assume that poor women have children in a twisted competition with their peers to gain status, because they have an insufficient knowledge of -or access to-birth control, or so they can 'milk' the welfare system. Yet out mothers almost never refer to these motivations. Rather, it is the perceived low cots of early childrenbearing and the high value that poor women place on chi ...more
Nov 17, 2015 Mara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was well-researched and scholarly for such a fascinating topic, which is, conversely, the only major flaw. The style of this book will not appeal to everyone, but the subject is something that is not that often talked about, or it's glossed over and turned into statistics. This book reminded me how easy it is to make bad choices sometimes, but these choices don't always have to define you.
Karen Cox
Apr 04, 2014 Karen Cox rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was written I the 90's but hasn't gotten stale. The authors present the world of poor unwed mothers using the words of the mothers themselves. It is the most effective way to show these women as neither immoral sluts with no regard for the consequence of their actions nor helpless victims tossed by the winds over which they have no control. The women have reasons for having kids when they do; they understand their circumstances and adapt reasonably. The authors don't say much in the book; t ...more
Feb 22, 2016 Veronica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This reads like an exhaustive list of interviews sorted into a few reoccurring themes. Where one or two would do, I find myself skimming through very similar stories from multiple women to get to her next point.
Apr 05, 2014 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this book was publish in 2005, most of what is in this well researched book are still happening today, making what is discussed here even more relevant as it brings question into mind such as; how different things are today? Have we learned something from this? And so on, which makes the reading worth the time you invest in it.
Margaret Zhang
Apr 20, 2014 Margaret Zhang rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Margaret by: Prof. Serena Mayer's seminar on marriage at Penn Law
An excellent immersion into the values and incentives of women in low-income neighborhoods. I am much enriched by reading this book.
Sep 15, 2008 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is based on extensive research with impoverished single mothers in Philadelphia. The authors research the women's attitudes towards marriage and motherhood. They find that most of the mothers desire to get married, and believe that they should marry before having children, but that this rarely happens in their community. The authors explore economic and social explanations for this phenomenon. They come to the conclusion that for poor women, early motherhood does not have significant e ...more
Apr 28, 2016 Ronna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read too many sociology books in a row. Back to fiction for awhile!
May 21, 2014 Alexis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Great research and content but annoyingly bad writing and organization.
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Kathryn Edin is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins.
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