The Impact of Single Parenting and Its Effects on Children

Target Audience

The rise in single-parent families and their impact on poverty levels have emerged as major issues of concern for policymakers and stimulated debate regarding the causes and effects of single parenting. These new social risks have seen changes in welfare policies and laws purposely developed to support certain family forms over others. The government prefers two-parent families as they reduce dependence on public assistance. Furthermore, these policy changes have led to greater participation of women in the workforce through the creation and provision of daycare facilities and parental leave programs. By creating opportunities for single parents to find employment in addition to their child-caring responsibilities, these policies tend to reduce the poverty risks faced by single-parent families. Policy makers can do more by designing more inclusive policies than consider specific needs of single parents. They should not only focus on policies marriage but also on employment-based anti-poverty strategies, teen pregnancies, housing and paid maternity leave.

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  1. Introduction
  2. Increase in single-parent families in the past five decades due to divorce and unmarried adults
  3. Most single-parent homes are mother-led
  4. One in every three children of 18 years and under live in a one-parent family
  5. Impacts of single parenting on Children
  6. Children raised in single parent homes are more likely to exhibit:
  7. Mental and behavioral problems
  8. Lower academic achievement
  9. Live in poverty

Poverty affects child care, child development, education and behavior 

  • Conclusion
  • Single parenting contributes to negative consequences on the family and children 


Single-parent households have been the most prevalent type of unconventional family form because of the steadily rising divorce rate, cohabitation, unstable couples, the high incidence of teen pregnancy and delayed marriage plans. These families are headed by mothers, fathers or grandparents raising children. According to Grall (2011), in the US, nearly 13.7 million single parents are in charge of bringing up 22 million children. According to the United States Census data (2016), one in three children of 18 years of age and under live in a one-parent household during their lifetime. Most of these single-parent families are mother-led (82.2%) and almost half live below the poverty line (Grall, 2011). Some critics of the welfare state and post-traditional society argue that the increase of single-parent households is the major cause of teen pregnancies, drug use, behavioral problems, school failure, welfare dependency and poverty plaguing low-income neighborhood and society as a whole (Pearlson, 2013). Indeed, the effect of single parenting can be greater where the social provisions for single parents are lowest and when unemployment level is high. The thesis of this paper is that single-parent households often face many challenges including but limited to high risk of poverty, financial problems, and loss of parental support and supervision, which in turn affects the children’s wellbeing.

Fig 1 single parenting statistics  

13.7 million Single parent families
82.2% headed by single mothers
17.2 children under the age of 18 raised by single parents

U.S. Census Bureau

45.6% were poor
51% of single mothers are divorced, 49% unmarried

Source: U.S. Census Bureau-Family Groups: 2016: retrieved from

Impacts of Single Parenting On children

Poverty is the most pervasive factor that affects the growth and development of children in any family setup.  However, children from single-parent families are more likely to grapple with poverty. Single-parent children have only one breadwinner unlike the children of two-parent-families. Approximately 16 million children live in poverty in the US and children from single mothers make up the bulk (Addy, Englehart & Skinner, 2013). This means that one in every four children live in poverty. The rise in single-parent households is the single most significant factor in poverty. According to the US Census Bureau (2015), almost one-half of the children 18 years and under who lived in the single-parent household experienced poverty. The lack of enough financial resources reduces the ability of the single parent to meet the children’s child care, education and care costs. Being the single income earner in the family can cause a significant gap between one’s earnings than that of two-income couples. While nearly 75% of single mothers participate in the labor force, they are twice as more likely to be unemployed compared to mothers in two-parent families (US Census Bureau 2015). Moreover, most of employed single mothers work in lower wage administrative, retail or service jobs. Similarly, many of these families are underprivileged because of issues to do with collecting child support payment from absentee fathers (Shepard, 2009).

Chronic child poverty is associated with poor cognitive performance, mental problems and behavioral problems more than half of children from single-parent households live in poverty as compared to 9% of children from dual-parent families (Robertson, 2016). Children from poor single parent families are less likely to take part in and to receive quality early childhood education (Robertson, 2016). They are also less likely to have maximum brain development due to poor quality of child care provided. They may experience developmental difficulties associated with poor prenatal care and untreated health conditions. 

Poverty has also indirect and direct impacts on the children. It decreases parenting skills and increases parental stress, which in turn affects a child’s wellbeing (Robertson, 2016). This is because the single parent is forced to accomplish all of the roles that would otherwise be shared by two parents. Parental stress compromises discipline and parental closeness. Negative impacts related to single parenthood include poor academic performance and conduct problems. Robertson (2016) claims that poverty has a strong correlation with a child’s low educational achievement, juvenile crime and conduct disorders.

Single-parenting has long been associated with behavioral problems and lower academic achievement. Single parenting may affect children’s academic performance in school. According to (Mugove, 2017) because single parents face more intense time pressure, they are less likely to participate in their children’s schooling. Such parents spend less time helping and monitoring their children’s school assignment and homework.

Children in single-parent families do display more conduct problems, perform poor academically and have higher teen pregnancies compared to children living in two-parent homes (Mugove, 2017). A single parent family home setting can influence behavioral performance of a child in school. Numerous reasons exist for believing that single parents negatively affects children’s educational achievement. To begin with, children in single-parent homes are more likely to have lower standards of living. Lower family income in turn affects children’s test scores and grades (Mugove, 2017). Secondly, children from single-parent homes have limited access to social capital, such as emotional support, everyday assistance and encouragement. While single parenting may not be directly responsible for behavioral issues, situational factors play an important role. For example, single parents are more likely to work for long hours, receive less emotional support and experience more life stressors. Parental stress can have adverse impacts on children, such as increased frustration, low self-esteem and increased risk for aggressive behavior (Mugove, 2017). Shepard (2009) found that children in single-parent families score lower on psychological wellbeing test scores and adapt poorly to social settings. Teens living in single-parent homes are more likely to exhibit deviant behaviors, school discipline problems, runaways and truancy

On the positive side, children from single-parent households learn more responsibility and spend more time with their parents. In learning to share responsibility, the children can appreciate what their parent is trying to do and are encouraged to assist. While assuming responsibility for household tasks may contribute to the development of maturity for older children, it can be heavy burden for younger children (Shepard, 2009).   


From the aforementioned discussion, it is evident that single-parent families face more challenges than two-parent households. Single-parent children are more likely to live in poverty as they depend on one parent as the sole breadwinner. Poverty affects children’s health, education and behavior. Single parenting contributes to the lost of parental supervision and discipline problems on the part of the children. On the positive side, single parenting enables children to develop strong responsibility skills. Because single-parent families are here to stay, policymakers should come up with policies that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of single-parent families. These includes increasing employment opportunities to single parents raising children, addressing gender inequalities and expanding assistance programs.


Addy, S., Engelhardt, W., & Skinner, C. (2013). Basic facts about low-income children: Children under 3 years, 2011. New York, NY: National Center on Children in Poverty.

Grall T.S. (2011). Custodial Mothers and Fathers and their child support: Washington: US Census Bureau.

Mugove, K. (2017). Challenges encountered by single parents in the learning and development of children. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 7(6), 178-186.

Pearlstein, M. (2011). From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Disintegration. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Robertson, C. (2016). Safety, Nutrition and Health in Early Education. Boston: Cengage Learning.

Shepard, J. M. (2009). Cengage Advantage Books: Sociology. Boston: Cengage Learning.

U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Current Population Survey (2015). Annual and Social Economic Supplement, Table C8. Retrieved on January 3, 2018 from

U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Household Relationship and Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years, by Age and Sex. Retrieved on January 3, 2018  from

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