Expenditures of Single Parents: How Does Gender Figure in? Regression Analysis Indicates That, for the Most Part, Expenditure Patterns Are the Same for Both Families Headed by a Single Father and Families Headed by a Single Mother; among the Few Differences Found Were Effects Due to Income, Marital Status, and Age. (Expenditures of Single Parents)

By Paulin, Geoffrey D.; Lee, Yoon G. | Monthly Labor Review, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Expenditures of Single Parents: How Does Gender Figure in? Regression Analysis Indicates That, for the Most Part, Expenditure Patterns Are the Same for Both Families Headed by a Single Father and Families Headed by a Single Mother; among the Few Differences Found Were Effects Due to Income, Marital Status, and Age. (Expenditures of Single Parents)


Paulin, Geoffrey D., Lee, Yoon G., Monthly Labor Review


Over the last few decades, the proportion of traditional two-parent families has been declining. In 1980, married couples headed 81 percent of all family households with their own children under 18. By 1999, the figure had fallen to 72 percent. (1) The change was due mostly to the growth in the number of single-parent households. For example, in 1980, the married-couple households just described numbered slightly under 25 million. In 1999, the figure was slightly over 25 million, a small change. (2) By contrast, households headed by a single parent grew from just under 6.1 million in 1980 to nearly 7.8 million in 1999. (3) In total, single-parent families with their own children under 18 accounted for 20 percent of family households in 1980 and 28 percent in 19999. (4)

One explanation for the increase in single-parent families is the high divorce rate in the Nation today. Between 1980 and 1999, the number of divorced persons doubled, from 9.9 million to 19.7 million. (5) Divorce undoubtedly has contributed to the increasing number of single fathers in the United States. In 1980, approximately 616,000 family households with their own children under the age of 18 included a father, but no mother. By 1999, the figure had risen to 1,706,000, an increase of 177 percent. (6) Similarly, over the same period, single-mother households grew from 5.4 million to 6.6 million, an increase of 21 percent. (7) Put another way, single fathers accounted for 2 percent of family households with their own children under 18 in 1980 and 5 percent in 1999. Single mothers accounted for 18 percent of these households in 1980 and 23 percent in 1999. (8)

Child rearing is difficult even when two parents are present. Yet, single mothers and single fathers face the same tasks that married parents do (for example, making sure that children are clean, clothed, and fed; helping with homework; preparing children for school; earning enough money to pay bills; disciplining children; and comforting them when they are upset), but with fewer resources: not only is there no other adult to share in the time spent with children, but in 1998 single parents received less than half the income ($24,530) that husband-and-wife families reported ($59,653). (9) According to Douglas B. Downey, ample literature supports the claim that children from single-parent families are outperformed in the classroom by their counterparts from two-parent families. (10) Downey reports that a leading explanation for this phenomenon is the lower economic status of families headed by a single mother, compared with the economic status of two-parent families. (11) However, he finds that, despite higher levels of education and income for single fathers compared with single mothers, (12) children in single-father families do no better in school than those from single-mother families. (13)

Because an increasing proportion of children in the United States reside with one parent only, and because the economic status of single-parent families remains relatively low, research on the economic status of these families is important, regardless of the gender of the parent. For example, profiling the basic economic situation of families in which parents are raising children without a spouse can provide useful information for public policymakers. Furthermore, understanding the income sources, expenditure levels, budget shares, and characteristics of single-parent families is useful for those who provide financial, economic, or other counseling to families headed by single parents. Moreover, given that the proliferation of single-father households in the past decade was even more dramatic than that of single-mother households, and in view of the fact that single-father families grew more rapidly than either two-parent or single-mother families in the 1980s, it is important for family researchers to appreciate the heterogeneity among single-parent families. …

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Expenditures of Single Parents: How Does Gender Figure in? Regression Analysis Indicates That, for the Most Part, Expenditure Patterns Are the Same for Both Families Headed by a Single Father and Families Headed by a Single Mother; among the Few Differences Found Were Effects Due to Income, Marital Status, and Age. (Expenditures of Single Parents)
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