Contemporary society has greatly influenced the family structure during recent decades. The divorce rates increase rapidly and make single parent families a normal issue. Single parenting that used to be primarily narrowed to low-income communities and minorities, has become a wide-spread problem. Moreover, the situations when a woman decides to have a child without being married happen more frequently.
Thus, according to Child Trends information, four out of ten children were born to single mothers, and more than 60% of these women were younger than 30 (Dawn, 2017). Both factors contribute to the growth of single parent raising one or more children. In the majority of cases, a single parent is a woman.
On the whole, about 17.2 million of children under the age of 18 are brought up without a father (Dawn, 2017). According to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau (as cited in Dawn, 2017, para. 6), there were 11,814 single parent families and 83% of them were under the responsibility of single mothers. Half of those women have never been married, and the other half is separated, widowed, or divorced. In the US, the majority of dingle mothers is White, the Blacks make up about 30%, and a quarter of single parents are Hispanic.
Single parent families face many daily problems, both economic and social. The troubles commonly occur with employment, income, access to health care and education (Hetherington & Arasteh, 2014, p. 11). All those issues have a certain impact on children raised in single parent families. One of the topics for conservative rhetoric is the rise of single motherhood and its impact on “rising inequality and stagnant incomes” and “stubbornly high rates of poverty and social and economic immobility” (Hymowitz, 2014, para. 1).
Thus, the fact that the problem of single parent families exist cannot be denied. Still, there is a question, if children raised in such families can cause more problems to the society due to the peculiarities of their upbringing and what are the troubles faced by single patent children.
Quality of Life and Life Satisfaction in Single Parent Families
Frequently, one of the first problems faced by a single parent is the financial supply and the related quality of life of a child or children. It is particularly obvious in case of divorce or death of the parent who was making the living for the family. The change in quality of life can influence life satisfaction among children and cause more serious problems depending on the child’s age.
It is generally accepted that children living with both parents demonstrate higher level of life satisfaction. In case of divorce, separation, or death of one of the parents, children tend to experience both “emotional distress and loss of regular contact with the non-residential parent” and lack of financial support (Bjarnason et al., 2012, p. 52). The research by Bjarnason et al. (2012) hypothesised that children living in less favourable economic conditions were likely to be less satisfied with life.
Moreover, reduction of life satisfaction was explained by economic difficulties faced by a family that are related to single parenthood. The researchers analysed data from Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study provided by a World Health Organisation in 36 Western countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Norway, Israel, Spain, etc.
The research proved the previous findings that children living in non-intact families observe lower life satisfaction in all countries, but the degree of this dissatisfaction was different depending on the type of the family. Thus, the highest level of life satisfaction was observed in intact or full families, second highest satisfaction is characteristic of single-mother families (Bjarnason et al., 2012, p. 59). Life satisfaction in mother–stepfather setting and joint physical custody situations was lower, and the lowest satisfaction rate was typical of single-father and father–stepmother households (Bjarnason et al., 2012, p. 59).
Thus, it can be concluded that the type of the single parent family is significant for the life satisfaction of children. Moreover, it can contribute to the misperception of a family model and thus negatively influence the life satisfaction of children when they grow up. On the other hand, if parents divorce because of constant conflicts or violence, the quality of life of children is likely to increase.
Educational Performance of Single Parent Children
Many scholars agree that educational performance and academic achievements of single parent children are influenced by the type of the family they live in and this impact is predominantly negative (Amato, Patterson, & Beattie, 2015); Lange, Dronkers, & Wolbers, 2014). Lange et al. (2014) support prior research that has revealed the negative correlation between parental divorce and children’s educational achievement (p. 330).
It can be explained by the fact that the loss of one parent can be treated as “a decrease in the number of family’s financial, cultural, and social resources” thus leading to “a deterioration of children’s educational achievement” (Lange et al., 2014, p. 330). The research discovered the relation between the family form and educational success. The research findings support the idea of the negative relationship between family form and educational performance. Thus, students from single-mother families have lower results (about 14 points) if compared to students from intact families (Lange et al., 2014, p. 341). At the same time, students living with a mother and guardian demonstrate less difference (10 points lower) average score.
Amato et al. (2015) provide a state-level analysis of children’s educational achievement depending on the type of household. The authors investigated the interdependence of the number of children living in single parent families and children’s test scores. The research revealed that children who live with one of the parents have lower scores after the measurement of academic ability and achievement if compared to children who live in intact families (Amato et al., 2015, p. 203).
However, these researchers do not consider the period of living in a single parent family. It is probable that deterioration in academic performance can be a consequence of stress after the parents’ separation, divorce, or death of one of the parents. It is possible that the educational achievements of children from single parent families improve after they overcome the stress.
Health Impacts on Single Parent Children
Apart from general life satisfaction and educational achievements, single parenthood can have impact on children’s health (Scharte & Bolte, 2012, p. 469). It can be caused by socio-economic factors that are still a topic for scholarly discussions. Some previous studies (as cited in Scharte & Bolte, 2012, p. 469) revealed the negative impact of single parenthood on both psychological well-being and physical health.
Scharte and Bolte (2012) provided three cross-sectional studies that were components of the obligatory pre-school examination in six regions in Germany (p. 470). The respondents were divided in accordance with the family type and single mothers were considered for the further data analysis. The research investigated child health outcomes and environmental factors. The results revealed that 10% of more than 17 thousand children lived in single mother families (Scharte & Bolte, 2012, p. 471).
Health characteristics of single mother families proved to be different. Thus, single mothers reported the health condition as poor in 7.1% for boys and 6.9% for girls compared to 5.4% and 4.2% correspondently in couple families (Scharte & Bolte, 2012, p. 471). Moreover, children of single mothers revealed higher rates of asthma and overweight. The authors came to the conclusion that disparities in health outcomes between children from couple and single parent families could be justified by socio-economic factors.
Another investigation of the family type significance is presented by Thomson and McLanahan (2012) in Reflections on “Family Structure and Child Well-Being.” The authors provide evidence of “the association between family structure and children’s academic and socioemotional development” (Thomson & McLanahan, 2012, p. 45). They claim that instability is one of the negative factors influencing children in non-intact families. This instability includes both economic and emotional aspects.
Although the negative health consequences of single parent families are proved by investigations, some advantages can also be traced. First of all, emotional health of children is going to increase in case there were arguments in the family. Moreover, living in a single parent family results in greater independence and responsibility that can positively influence health condition in the future.
On the whole, the issue of single parent families and children living in them is a contradictory one. It is evident that divorce, separation or death of one of the parents is a negative experience for children of any age. It can result in relationship problems, decrease of quality of life deriving from the decrease in income, and other negative changes. Psychological problems that appear in children living in single parent families can cause more serious problems in adulthood thus making non-intact families a problem for the society. In case these problems remain unsolved, children grow up to become adults with relationship difficulties unable to take care of their own family.
However, frequently divorce or separation lead to the improvement of psychological health that determines the increase in general well-being and life satisfaction. It happens in case of abuse in the family. Less arguments and violence reduce the stress and contribute to the formation of positive family picture. Moreover, living in a single parent family stimulates responsibility and independence that are useful in adulthood.
However, despite some positive aspects of living in single parent families, the tendency to their growth is worrying and should be prevented. Family issues are becoming involved in the political debate which, however, does not contribute to the positive changes. Governmental support for single parent families is necessary. Still, it is more important to focus on the development of interventions aimed at the promotion of marriage and families with both parents. It is crucial to retain the model of intact family and keep it prevalent for the contemporary society. This approach is a way to global well-being and sustainable development of the society.
Amato, P., Patterson, S., & Beattie, B. (2015). Single-parent households and children’s educational achievement: A state-level analysis. Social Science Research, 53, 191-202. Web.
Bjarnason, T., Bendtsen, P., Arnarsson, A., Borup, I., Iannotti, R., Löfstedt, P. … Niclasen, B. (2012). Life satisfaction among children in different family structures: A comparative study of 36 western societies. Children & Society, 26(1), 51-62. Web.
Dawn, L. (2017). Single mother statistics. Web.
Hetherington, E.M., & Arasteh, J.D. (Eds.). (2014). Impact of Divorce, single parenting and stepparenting on children: A case of visual agnosia. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Hymowitz, K.S. (2014). How single motherhood hurts kids. The New York Times. Web.
Lange, M., Dronkers, J., & Wolbers, M. (2014). Single-parent family forms and children’s educational performance in a comparative perspective: effects of school’s share of single-parent families. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 25(3), 329-350. Web.
Scharte, M., & Bolte, G. (2012). Increased health risks of children with single mothers: the impact of socio-economic and environmental factors. The European Journal of Public Health, 23(3), 469-475. Web.
Thomson, E., & McLanahan, S. (2012). Reflections on “Family structure and child well-being: Economic resources vs. parental socialization“. Social Forces, 91(1), 45-53. Web.