The Plight of Single Parents

For the past 25 years, single parenthood has become more and more common in society. New set-ups are emerging aside from the traditional nuclear family.

Single parenthood is commonly brought about by three things: divorce, death of the spouse or teenage pregnancy. Cohabitation outside a matrimonial set-up is common but it changes not so much the real parental status as the statistics behind it.

The number of single parent families has doubled in the last two decades. US census estimates that 59 percent of children in America will live with a single parent at least once. There are about 12 million single parents in the United States. About 20 million or 28 percent of children under 18 live with a single parent. 84 percent of those who live with one parent live with their mother.

Families which are headed by women are more vulnerable. Women’s social position is still relatively weaker than that of men. Single mothers have to cope with existing gender-based limitations for gainful employment vis-à-vis a very demanding family life.

Although 53.3 percent of single mothers in the U.S. are in the labor force, 3.9 million or 28 percent of households with a female single parent are in poverty compared to just 5.5 percent of two-parent families.

This is because of the fact that the median family income for U.S. female single parents is $25,500 which is about half the average income of all families and less than half of the income of married-couple families. Adjusting for inflation, it is even less than the median family income of married-couple families in 1969 ($39,800).

In comparison, 13.3 percent of households run by male single parents are in poverty. This is much less than the rate for single mothers, but still more than twice the poverty rate for married-couple families.

There had been policy proposals for single parents to receive social benefits but these have been controversial. According to liberal individualist, if people choose to have children, they are responsible to look after them.

The collectivist position which dominates continental Europe holds that children are other people’s business as well. This position also believes that the interest of the children is far greater than any concerns about the morality of the parents.

Aside from these economic realities, single parents also have to face the reality that children who live with single parents or even with a parent and step-parent, experience disadvantages in terms of psychological functioning, behavioral problems, education, and health.

Children with single parents are one and a half times likely to drop out of school and work in their early teens and twenties than children who grew up with two parents. Children with single parents are also twice as likely to have a child before the age of 20 as those raised in two-parent family.

Many psychologists and child development workers argue however that these studies are oversimplified and outdated. Many factors are involved in the psychological development of a child raised in a single parent home. Cooperation between divorced parents and quality of attention given to the child are examples.

No child in a single parent family is by default doomed for a maladjusted life. Single parents must model self-respect and self-nurturance to the children and establish a support system for the family.

Many studies have shown that children with single parents tend to have poorer academic performance and receive less intellectual stimulation than children living with married parents.

However, studies in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University indicate that having a support system like a grandparent in the home, appears to buffer some of these negative effects. Children who live with a single parent and a grandparent fare just as well academically as children living with married parents.

These findings contradict the idea that living with two married parents is the only situation in which children can thrive.


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