Multiple aspects compose single-parent households. Some social impacts include diminished social capital for children, education, socioeconomic factors, potential health and psychological concerns, the criminalization of fathers, and abuse of mothers. This article provides an overview of these multiple impacts through a sociological lens. Applications will be presented that describe impacts of single-parent households on general society. Issues will be offered that present an overview of the benefits of the single-parent household. A conclusion will be offered that supports the need for future research into each of the variables composing the single-parent household.
Keywords Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; No Fault Divorce; Occult Injuries; Single-Parent Households; Social Capital; Social Disorganization Theory
The Single-Parent Household
According to Cunningham and Knoester (2007) the number of single-parent families in the United States has increased significantly since the 1970s. Moreover, the fastest growing family type in the United States is the single-parent family, which by 2010 constituted about 30 percent of all families with children, according to the 2012 US Census Statistical Abstract. Single-mother households with children represented more than 8 million households or approximately 79 percent of single-parent families. In addition, the number of single-father households more than tripled between 1980 and 2010. In 1980, single-father families made up roughly 2 percent of all families with children, with less than 700,000 households. By 2010, the number of single-father households had reached 2.2 million, or about 6 percent of families with children.
Children are incapable of choosing the circumstances of their childhood and adolescence. Weitoft, Hiem, Haglund, and Rosen (2003) argued that "childhood family background still seems to be an important predictor of a person's life-chances as an adult. Moreover, in the second half of the 20th century, growing up with one parent is increasingly common" for children in the post-industrial world (p. 289). In researching the multiple impacts of the single-parent family, researchers have assessed the implications of "parental achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, social competence, and health" (p. 289). Weitoft et al. (2003) further concluded that children and adolescents from single-parent households demonstrated higher propensity toward “psychiatric disease, suicide or suicide attempt, injury and addiction” contrasted with those in two-parent households. Specifically, “boys in single-parent families had higher risks than girls for psychiatric disease and drug-related disease, and they also had a raised risk of all-cause mortality” (p. 294). Additional research indicates that the multiple impacts of single-parent households on children are numerous and complex.
Effect on Social Capital
Before Weitoft et al.'s (2003) findings were reported, Coleman (1988) argued that the most prominent element of "structural deficiency in modern families" is the single-parent family (p. 111). In his research, Coleman (1987) identified the ideal situations in which social capital is accumulated in relation to family situation. He suggested that “a number of influences linked to the industrialization and modernization of societies meant that the family in its modern form is low in social capital when compared with formations in earlier times” (Seaman & Sweeting, 2004, p. 175). To initiate further understanding, social capital has been described as “a characteristic of the relations between people” (Seaman & Sweeting, 2004, p. 174). Social capital advantages occur when trust and reciprocity allow for access to resources such as human and cultural capital that already exist within the community or social network (Coleman, 1988). Bourdieu described social capital as both a quality and quantity of relationships: "first, the social relationship itself that allows individuals to claim access to resources possessed by their associates, and second, the amount and quality of these resources" (Portes, 1998, p. 3-4). In this understanding, "social capital is something possessed by individuals that gains its strength in the aggregate of social networks" (Seamen & Sweeting, 2004, p. 174). Research into social capital and young people's outcomes also focuses on education. Coleman (1988) presented data showing “higher school drop-out rates for pupils with a single parent, several siblings and no maternal college expectations” (Seamen & Sweeting, 2004, p. 176).
Aquilino (1996) (cited in Moore, Vandivere, & Redd, 2006, p. 51) indicated that "among children who were born to unmarried mothers, and those who grew up with a single parent or in a step-family were less likely to complete high school than those who were adopted or who transitioned to living with two biological parents." Another study indicated that, for white youths only, a larger portion of childhood spent in a two-parent family was associated with lower probabilities of high school dropout, marijuana use, and teen parenthood (Hauren, 1992). Cleveland (2003) reported that "adolescence may be the most important time to consider the effects of neighborhoods on risk behaviors, such as aggression and delinquency" (p. 212). Social disorganization theory explains that the higher levels of delinquency, crime, and other behavioral problems in structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods are due to lower levels of informal social controls caused by these disadvantages (Case & Katz, 1991; Sampson, 1997; Sampson & Groves, 1989).
The Two-Parent Family Advantage
Adolescents who receive parenting that simultaneously protects them from neighborhood dangers and cultivates opportunities outside the neighborhood can avoid negative outcomes (Furstenberg, 1993). By providing adolescents with consistent emotional support and discipline, effective supervision, and close emotional ties, cohesive families can often overcome neighborhood disadvantages (Sampson & Laub, 1994). Moreover, Saylor, Boyce, and Price (2003) indicated that "family variables in the first months of a child's life including low income, single-parent household, and high parenting stress were significantly correlated with behavior problems appearing at 7.5 years of age" (p. 175, Abstract). They concluded that "it appears that being in households which are financially secure and have two parents may minimize the likelihood of later behavior problems, even in low birth weight youngsters with known neurological insults" (p. 188).
Primary applications of the impact of single-parent households include:
• Socioeconomic factors,
• Potential health and psychological concerns,
• The criminalization of fathers, and
• Abuse of mothers
Studies in the United States and Britain have found that educational attainment is related to family structure (Zimiles & Lee, 1991; Furstenberg & Hughes, 1995; Teachman et al, 1996; Sweeting et al, 1998). Marriage is positively associated with education and employment. Education, employment status, race, age, marital status, and number of children are also associated with psychological well-being (Cunningham & Knoester, 2007). Children who were born to unmarried mothers or those who grew up with a single parent or in a step-family were less likely to complete high school than those who were adopted or who transitioned to living with two biological parents (Aquilino, 1996).
In addition, low parental educational attainment is a risk factor for poor cognitive development (Jackson, 2003; Roberts et al., 1998), and for not completing high school (Haveman et al., 1991). Mothers' educational attainment has also been negatively associated with aggressive behaviors among adolescents (Kowalski-Jones, 2000) and teen childbearing (Afxentiou & Hawley, 1997; Manlove et al., 2000). According to each of these studies, education can directly be impacted by living in single-parent households.
According to Weitoft, Hiem, Haglund, and Rosen (2003),
The socioeconomic situation of children in families with only one adult was different from that of children in families with two adults. More single parents than couples were unskilled manual workers, low-grade non-manual workers, and people without an occupation, whereas couples were more likely than single parents to be high-grade or medium-grade non-manual workers (p. 291).
Additionally, women with low educational status, which was reported to be highly correlated with socioeconomic status, have a higher risk of being a single mother through separation than do mothers with high education. Weitoft et al (2003) also believe that the "style of living in a large city moves toward an increase in the number of single parents, rather than the idea that becoming a single parent leads to urban migration" (p. 291). In addition, twice as many single parents as couples received unemployment benefits.
According to Laasko (2004), in terms of custodial and non-custodial parental responsibilities, financial contributions have often been seen as “a key factor in explaining both mothers' and fathers' behaviors and the frequency of visits with their children. As stated by Lin and McLanahan (2001), fathers are likely to demand more time with their child in exchange for financial renumerations. Teitler (2001) pointed out that academic and public interest in contributions of fathers, until recently, has been limited to their role as breadwinners. As a result, there has been an increase in child support payments and concomitantly a larger number of parenting plans established (Grail, 2002)” (p. 134). Moreover, Primus (2006) indicated that "an examination of trends since 1979 suggests that periods of economic recession and expansion affect child living arrangements. In general, economic slowdowns tend to lead to a reduction in the proportion of children living with married parents, an increase in cohabitation, and an increase in single parent households" (p. 716). All of these factors are indicative of socio-economic efficacy and corresponding impacts on single parent households.
Rubin, Christian, Bilaniuk, Zazyczny, and Durbin (2003) statistically reported that among children with head injuries, 72 percent came from single-parent households, 37 percent had mothers whose age was less than 21 years, and 26 percent had a history of prior child welfare involvement in their families (Abstract). They wrote, "Head injury is the leading cause of death in abused children under 2 years of age, and early detection of head injuries can limit significant morbidity and mortality" attributed to the injury. "Multiple investigators have shown that most children with inflicted head injury have evidence of other occult (hidden) injuries, including fractures, at the time they present for medical care" (p. 1382). Rubin, et al. further wrote, "Given the importance of confirming child abuse and influencing safety recommendations before medical discharge, we believe the finding of such a high prevalence of occult head injury in this study should influence guidelines regarding screening of this population" (p. 1383). Based on this study, the researchers stated, "Our finding of a relatively high prevalence of occult head injury in this cohort suggests the need for universal screening of similar high-risk abused children" (p. 1386). Additional health issues also exist for targeted groups, such as higher propensities toward obesity and psychological issues.
Epidemiological studies have indicated that the "prevalence of obesity in the United States is on the rise" (Mokad et al, 1999; Trojano & Flegal, 1998 as cited in Gable & Lutz, 2000, p. 293). "According to the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, rates of adult obesity has increased from 25% in the 1970s to 33% in the 1980s" (FASEB, 1995; Kuczmarski, Flegal, Campbell & Johnson, 1994, as cited in Gable & Lutz, 2000, p. 293). Obesity is associated with chronic disease and harmful health conditions; the growing incidence of obesity is a serious public health issue. Research indicates that demographic characteristics of the family also show associations with food consumption, food preparation, and food availability. The structure of the family can directly...
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