Double the Trouble

Recommends steps to fight child-rearing problems which occur in single-parent families. School dropout rate for children; Increase in out-of-wedlock births; Information campaign on the potential costs of divorce for children; Child support from fathers; Government subsidy for child care.

By Sara McLanahan, published on May 1, 1996 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Single-Parent Households

"I was a single mother myself for ten years. So when I first got into this research, I wanted to demonstrate that single mothers could do just as good a job of raising children as married morns. Unfortunately, the evidence led me to somewhat different conclusions:

o The school dropout rate for children in single-mother families is twice as high as the rate for children in two-parent families.

o Children in one-parent families have lower grade point averages and poorer school attendance records.

o As adults, they are less likely to graduate from college and more likely to become single parents themselves.

Out-of-wedlock births have been going up in the United States since the 1940s. What should we do? There are three recommendations I believe fundamental to any lasting solution:

First, we must do a better job of informing parents about the potential costs of divorce for children.

Second, we need to make sure that fathers do not abandon their children when they live in separate households. This means making sure that all children with a nonresident parent, including children born outside of marriage, have a child support award that is paid in full. We do a good job of collecting income and payroll taxes, and we can do the same with child support.

Finally, government must do more to help parents cover the costs of raising children. All other Western industrialized countries provide child allowances, and a few provide free, or heavily subsidized, child care. I favor universal programs--available to all families with children, not just single mothers, because the latter sends the wrong message to poor parents who are trying to stay together, and it builds resentment toward single mothers."

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Sara McLanahan, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Princeton University