Growing up with a Single Parent



What is the problem with single-parent families?  Why do

the children of single mothers drop out of school at a rate

twice that of children from intact homes?  And why do their

teen-aged daughters become pregnant twice as often as girls

who live with both parents?

The obvious answer is because they don’t have fathers at

home to help with the parenting, to provide guidance, love,

and a role-model for achieving success in the world of work.

But that’s too easy, says Sara McLanahan, Ph.D., a

Princeton professor of sociology.  In her book, “Growing up with a

Single Parent:  What Hurts, What Helps” co-authored

with Gary Sandefur, McLanahan suggests that it is poverty

that is primarily to blame for the failure to succeed common

among single-parented children.

In their study of more than 35,000 children, income was

seen to be the largest contributor towards explaining

differences between drop-out and pregnancy rates of single-

parented vs. two-parented kids.

Another important factor is the degree of disruption in

the lives of these kids.  Single-parent families move twice

as often, disrupting schooling, friendships and community


Single mothers typically are torn between working and

parenting, allowing them less time to spend with their kids

and diminishing their influence and authority in the home.

This is another, more indirect, result of the income gap.

It is interesting to note that children in stepfamilies

do no better than those with single parents.  This may also

be due to increased disruption.  Stepfamilies move three

times as often as intact families.  The marriages are often

short-lived, children often do not receive significant

attention from their stepfathers and stepfathers usually

bring in less money due to support obligations to children

from previous marriages.

The number of single-parent and stepfamilies is rising.

The children from these families are more likely to become

single-parents themselves.  This is a problem that isn’t

going away any time soon.




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