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The Problem of Rising Single Parenthood

Posted on Sep 5, 2013
Beth Rankin (CC BY 2.0)

In 2012, the difference in income between single and married women without kids was $857 compared with the nearly $19,000 disparity between those with children.

Although it’s significant that women now have the highest income in many households with children under 18, according to recent studies, a more interesting number is how many of these mothers are going it alone. That many households have “breadwinner moms” has a lot to do with the fact that a fourth of these families survive on the income of a single mother.

Moreover, there is a huge disparity (almost $19,000) between a single mother’s income and her married counterpart. A number of factors contribute to the gap: Single mothers tend to have less time to study and so are less educated and thus less qualified for higher paying jobs with regular hours and benefits than married moms, and are more likely to be Hispanic or black, according to The Atlantic. Married mothers tend to be older, but also “disproportionately white and college-educated.” Similar findings are also true for single dads versus married ones.

The most alarming fact discovered in data found in the 2007-2012 Current Population Survey March Supplement is that the proportion of U.S. households sustained by single parents has more than tripled since 1960.

The Atlantic discusses the factors that contribute to this increase as well as their social implications:

In 2007, a married mother earned an average income of $57,194, nearly double that of single moms. Even after the recession hit married couples the hardest, average real incomes of single moms were just 60 percent of married moms in 2012. Differences in incomes between single and married dads also persisted over the course of the recession.

Although single dads earn more than single moms, but single parents, overall, earn less than married parents. It comes down to jobs, really. More than 80 percent of moms with spouses are employed, but only 60 percent of single mothers are in full-time jobs—perhaps due to the difficulty of managing children alone. Similarly, single dads are less likely to be in full-time jobs (69 percent) than married dads (88 percent).

There is much more research to do, but this much we know: Single parents work less and learn less because they are the sole caretakers for their children….Paying for childcare can also be incredibly costly, driving down the incentives to work….Childcare subsidies can be incredibly important in allowing single mothers to find jobs with conventional or standard schedules….A few studies have found that workers engaged in non-standard work are more likely to be assigned to routine jobs and to receive less training and fewer promotions than others. Consequently these workers earn less and are less likely to have health insurance and pension benefits than standard workers. Furthermore, nonstandard work is linked to a number of adverse outcomes for parents and children, such as work and family conflicts, marital instability, health problems for both parents and children, and poor educational outcomes for children.

Most strikingly, our data suggest that the presence or absence of children might be the single biggest factor explaining income differences between single and married mothers.

If a quarter of American households depend on solo parents, and they tend to have lower incomes than married ones, something needs to be done to improve the conditions under which these moms and dads are forced to raise their children. As The Atlantic piece concludes, our society needs to “ensure that for these families single parenting is in fact a dream, and not the enormous challenge that it currently is today.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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