Single Parents

Single parents are those who raise children without the help of the other biological parent in the home. Single-parent families are determined by the sex of the "primary carer," responsible for the children the majority of the time, and they can be either mother-only or father-only families. There are various reasons for their formation, such as a divorce, separation, widowhood or because the parents were never married. If single parenthood is a result of a separation or divorce, the non-custodian parent is still entitled to spend time with the children and shares some part of the responsibility.

Until the mid-20th century, the main reason for a single-parent family was the death of a spouse, especially in the years of the two World Wars. Single parenthood was not seen in western society as an acceptable "lifestyle choice." Unmarried women who became pregnant would often be sent away from the family home in the latter stages of the pregnancy, and soon after birth the child might be given up, into the care of a religious order or the local workhouse, possibly for adoption but more often to an uncertain future.

In the second half of the 20th century, as divorce became more socially accepted, the number of single-parent families increased. By the beginning of the 21st century, there was less of a social stigma attached to women who might choose to have children and bring them up, without being married to or even living with the child's father.

Single parenthood can be a result of unforeseen circumstances such as death, child neglect or abuse, abandonment by one of the biological parents, or unplanned pregnancy. The number of single-parent families reached its highest level in the 1980s and then slightly declined in the next decade. Divorce rate in developed countries is higher than in developing countries; divorced or separated mothers normally form the majority of single-parent families, followed by never-married women. Many children end up living in a single-parent home after parents separate, but in case of remarriage, this is only a temporary situation after they move into a two-parent family, with one biological parent and one step-parent.

The increase in the number of single mothers is a consequence of unplanned, accidental pregnancy or of the decision not to marry. This number includes teenage mothers reluctant to marry and older women who delayed marriage because of career opportunities. Non-marital childbearing is more common because of more employment opportunities for women and the availability of welfare benefits that allow them to set up their own households.

Nevertheless, the number of father-only families increased significantly in the 1980s when social attitudes changed about the role of the father in parenting. Traditionally, single-father families resulted from widowhood, desertion by the mother, or wives refusing custody. The increase is also influenced by the efforts of fathers to get custody of their children. In divorce cases, courts often issue legal rulings over which parent should have the children live with them. Mothers have most often been given custody of their children, with fathers being given visiting rights. Fathers are more likely to obtain custody of the children when they pay child support regularly and if the children are older and choose to live with the father. In most cases, the non-custodial parent continues taking part in the rearing of the child.

Single-parent families face greater challenges and are at higher risk of poverty than married couples. Dependency on a single income and the problems involved in arranging for regular childcare are the most obvious handicaps facing a single parent. The education level, the age and occupation of the single parent also greatly affects the development of the child. According to social scientists children of single parents are more likely to grow uncontrollable and delinquent due to the economic difficulties and parental style. These children are disadvantaged and are twice as likely to drop out of school, or to themselves become parents in their teens. Those risks result from less parental supervision and control, allowing children to abuse drugs and alcohol and to be more sexually active, to join a gang or participate in crimes. Children raised by only one parent are more likely to commit suicide and to divorce or stay unmarried in the future.

Single Parents: Selected full-text books and articles

Poor Single Mothers with Young Children: Mastery, Relations with Nonresident Fathers, and Child Outcomes By Jackson, Aurora P.; Choi, Jeong-Kyun; Franke, Todd M Social Work Research, Vol. 33, No. 2, June 2009
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Parents of Children with Disabilities in a Single-Parent Family By Waldman, H. Barry; Perlman, Steven P The Exceptional Parent, Vol. 49, No. 2, February 2019
Handbook of Family Communication By Anita L. Vangelisti Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Communication in Divorced and Single-Parent Families"
For Love and Money? the Impact of Family Structure on Family Income By Thomas, Adam; Sawhill, Isabel The Future of Children, Vol. 15, No. 2, Fall 2005
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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