How are dual-earner families and single-parent families affecting the way children in the United States are reared? Are there advantages to these family arrangements? What structural factors have...

How are dual-earner families and single-parent families affecting the way children in the United States are reared? Are there advantages to these family arrangements? What structural factors have caused these patterns to develop?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clearly the days when most families are intact, two-parent, work-at-home mom families is over. Divorce rates are up, the number of single women having and raising babies alone is increasing, and the need for both parents to work during these difficult economic times is pressing. All of these things have resulted in dramatic changes in how children are raised as well as the family dynamic; some of those changes are negative, of course, but others are positive.

Sixty-four percent of Americans think that children raised in single-parent homes are at some risk for serious problems, and certainly there is some validity to that thinking. One of the greatest disadvantages of single-parent families involves money. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that single mothers (which are the majority of single parents) are more than twice as likely to face unemployment and poverty.

Not having financial stability can lead to many other problems, including problems in school or even students dropping out of school. Certainly not having money (or at least limited discretionary income) changes the dynamic of any home. Poverty limits many of the special activities (such as vacations) families can do when they have a little money to do them. Time is also a factor. If the parent is forced to work long hours in order to make a living, there can be issues of abandonment, opportunities for children to act out when they are unsupervised, or at least a loss of valuable time to spend with a parent.

Children from single-parent families due to divorce face some additional challenges. The potential for manipulation, parental feuding, relocation, and other changes to cause emotional damage is high; and those children who have to make the adjustment to a new family after a re-marriage are likely to experience some level of anxiety, at least. 

Research has shown, however, that there are some advantages for children who come from single-parent homes; these include greater independence and autonomy (because they have learned to fend for themselves) and the potential for a strong connection with the single parent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2012,  

[t]he share of married-couple families with children where both parents worked was 59.0 percent. 

Children from these homes face some of the same risks and can experience the same advantages as those who come from single-parent homes, simply because their parents are not as accessible to them because of work. The primary difference, of course, is that there is likely to be more income in these households and therefore more opportunities.

In general, these two scenarios--single-parent and dual-income households--are becoming the norm in American society. Because of this, two things have had a dramatic impact on the  family structure and on how children are raised: time and money. Changes in these two areas have changed the way parenting and nurturing is done. Consider the following trends:

  • Young children go to daycare (or some form of it) and have surrogate parents as their providers.
  • Absentee (too-busy) parents use "things" to assuage their guilt and keep their children entertained.
  • Children have much more unsupervised time than they ever have.
  • Families are not as connected as they once were since often they have less time to spend together.

The specific effects of these things can vary in each family and with each child, of course, but they do have a measurable impact on both families and children in America.