Danielle L. Horvath
Marcy B. Gringlas
Thomas Jefferson University
The proportion of children living in single-parent families has increased markedly around the world since 1960, and this increase has been especially significant in the United States (Burns, 1992; Hobbs and Lippman, 1990). The United States has a higher proportion of single-parent households than that of any other developed country. The proportion of children in the United States living with only one parent increased from 9.1% in 1960 to 28% in 1997 (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). Although there are differences in the prevalence of single-parent families across ethnic groups, with nearly 47% of African American children living in single-parent families, this increase has affected all groups of Americans (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Given current divorce and remarriage trends, demographers predict that more than half of all America's children will spend some part of their formative years in a single-parent family (Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992; Bianchi, 1995).
For observers on the national scene in the early 1990s, this changing family pattern was viewed as particularly alarming. Considered a prime symptom of the erosion of American culture, single-parent families were reputed by many to be responsible for society's declining values and the breakdown of the social fabric. In an Atlantic magazine article entitled “Dan Quayle was right, ” Whitehead (1993, p. 77) characterized the family disruption associated with the rise in single-parent families as “a central cause of many of our most vexing social problems. ” Indeed, the term single-parent family became almost a euphemism for family breakdown, a kind of social pathology, and a major contributor to all that is wrong with our society (Kamerman and Kahn, 1988).
To some extent, this alarmist view of the early 1990s contains a grain of truth. A wide range of research from sociologists and psychologists has shown that children of single-parent families are more likely to have difficulties with emotional and psychological adjustment and with school performance and educational attainment, and they are also more likely to have behavioral adjustment problems, later marriage, and earlier childbearing compared with children of two-parent families. Because single-parent children appear more vulnerable to a wide variety of societal problems, these