Growing Up with a Single Parent: What hurts, what helps
ERIC - Growing Up with a Single Parent
In a concluding chapter, McLanahan and Sandefur offer clear recommendations for rethinking our current policies. Single parents are here to stay, and their worsening situation is tearing at the fabric of our society. It is imperative, the authors show, that we shift more of the costs of raising children from mothers to fathers and from parents to society at large. Likewise, we must develop universal assistance programs that benefit low-income two-parent families as well as single mothers. Startling in its findings and trenchant in its analysis, "Growing Up with a Single Parent" will serve to inform both the personal decisions and governmental policies that affect our children's--and our nation's--future.
Growing Up with a Single Parent
Nonwhite and white, rich and poor, born to an unwed mother or weathering divorce, over half of all children in the current generation will live in a single-parent family--and these children simply will not fare as well as their peers who live with both parents. This is the clear and urgent message of this powerful book. Based on four national surveys and drawing on more than a decade of research, "Growing Up with a Single Parent" sharply demonstrates the connection between family structure and a child's prospects for success.
The “Selection” Perspective
Explanations that focus on economic hardship, the quality of parenting, and exposure to stress all assume that the circumstances associated with living in a single-parent household negatively affect children's well-being. A quite different explanation-—and the main alternative to these views-—is that many poorly adjusted individuals either never marry in the first place or see their marriages end in divorce. In other words, these people carry traits that “select” them into single parenthood. Parents can transmit these problematic traits to their children either through genetic inheritance or inept parenting. For example, a mother with an antisocial personality may pass this genetic predisposition to her children. Her personality also may contribute to her marriage's ending in divorce. Her children will thus be at risk of exhibiting antisocial behavior, but the risk has little to do with the divorce. The discovery that concordance (similarity between siblings) for divorce among adults is higher among identical than fraternal twins suggests that genes may predispose some people to engage in behaviors that increase the risk of divorce.58 If parents' personality traits and other genetically transmitted predispositions are causes of single parenthood as well as childhood problems, then the apparent effects on children of growing up with a single parent are spurious.U.S. policymakers also should acknowledge that returning to substantially lower rates of divorce and nonmarital childbearing, although a worthwhile goal, is not realistic, at least in the short term. Although policy interventions may lower the rate of divorce and nonmarital childbearing, many children will continue to grow up with a single parent. This stubborn fact means that policies for improving children's well-being cannot focus exclusively on promoting marriage and strengthening marital stability. These policies must be supplemented by others that improve economic well-being, strengthen parent-child bonds, and ease the stress experienced by children in single-parent and stepparent households. Such programs would provide parent education classes for divorcing parents, increase the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit for poor working parents, establish paternity and increase the payment of child support, and improve the quantity and quality of time that nonresident parents, especially fathers, spend with their children.