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Sara McLanahan Summer Children of single-parent families suffer measurable harm. But the problems of the family are far more complex than the popular debate often suggests. PinIt Instapaper Pocket Email Print Inwhen Dan Quayle condemned the television character Murphy Brown for giving birth out of wedlock, he reopened an old debate that quickly became highly polarized.
Some people claimed that growing up in a fatherless home was the major cause of child poverty, delinquency, and school failure, while others denied that single motherhood had any harmful effects. And some objected even to discussing the topic for fear of stigmatizing Single parent families mothers and their children.
Not talking about single motherhood is scarcely an option. More than half of the children born in will spend some or all of their childhood with only one parent, typically their mother. If current patterns hold, they will likely experience higher rates of poverty, school failure, and other problems as they grow up.
The long-range consequences could have enormous implications. But what exactly are the consequences -- how large and concentrated among what groups?
Do they depend on whether a single mother is widowed, divorced, or never married? Does public support for single mothers inadvertently increase the number of women who get divorced or choose to have a baby on their own? Many people hold strong opinions about these issues. For example, conservatives such as former Education Secretary William Bennett and Charles Murray, the author of Losing Ground, believe that single motherhood is so harmful and public support is so significant an inducement for unwed women to have babies that it is time to get tough with the mothers.
Murray has even proposed denying unwed mothers child support payments from nonresident fathers. Of the father Murray says: As far as I can tell, he has approximately the same causal responsibility as a slice of chocolate cake has in determining whether a woman gains weight. Meanwhile, some liberal critics see single mother as a codeword for "black, welfare mother.
So great are the passions aroused by the debate over the morality of single motherhood that a clear-eyed view of the consequences of single motherhood has been difficult. But to make any progress, we had best know what those are.
Does Single Motherhood Harm Children? Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents nearly always the mother are disadvantaged across a broad array of outcomes.
As shown in figure 1they are twice as likely to drop out of high school, 2. Children in one-parent families also have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, and poorer attendance records. As adults, they have higher rates of divorce. The evidence, however, does not show that family disruption is the principal cause of high school failure, poverty, and delinquency.
While 19 percent of all children drop out of high school, the dropout rate for children in two-parent families is 13 percent. Thus, the dropout rate would be only 33 percent lower if all families had two parents and the children currently living with a single parent had the same dropout rates as children living with two parents -- a highly improbable assumption.
The story is basically the same for the other measures of child well-being.Definitions: Children under age 18 who live with their own single parent either in a family or subfamily.
In this definition, single-parent families may include cohabiting couples and do not include children living with married stepparents. Still other families are counted as single-parent families if the parents are married, but one is away for an extended period, for example, on military deployment.
The most common type of single-parent family is one that consists of a mother and her biological children. The rate of African American marriage is consistently lower than White Americans, and is declining. These trends are so pervasive that families who are married are considered a minority family structure for blacks.
In , 64% of adult African Americans were married.
Take Time For Family. Being a single parent can be overwhelming. Set aside some time each day to enjoy your children. Spend quiet time playing, reading, working on arts-and-crafts projects, or just listening to music together.
Your time is one of the most important things you can give to your children. “Parent” here is used to mean an adult parental figure. Except as noted, throughout this chapter a parent may be the biological or adoptive parent, or the spouse or partner of a biological or adoptive parent .
Single-parent families are more common than ever. Know how to manage some of the special challenges single parents experience and what you can do to raise a happy, healthy child.
Common single-parent challenges. Child rearing can be difficult under any circumstances. Without a partner, the stakes are higher.