Advantages and Disadvantages for Children in a Single-Parent Family

According to statistics released in 2007 by the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one-third of births in the United States in the year 2000 were to unwed mothers. This marked a growing trend of single-parent families, a group comprised of parents who have both intentionally elected to embark upon single-parenthood, and those who found themselves parenting solo as a result of divorce, death or unplanned pregnancy. Previous wisdom has largely considered single-parent homes to be a disadvantage to children, but some researchers are now finding assorted advantages to these living arrangements as well.

Increased Adolescent Autonomy

A 2011 review of the various single-parent family studies was written by Mark S. Barajas and takes note of the researchers who have identified higher levels of adolescent autonomy among children raised in single-parent homes 2. These children are more likely to build upon their own independence in a home where they may not always have one or both parents hovering over them. When combined with the strong parent-child communication, which was also observed in single-parent homes, this increased autonomy can benefit children as they grow.

Lack of Parental Fighting

New York Times writer Katie Roiphe points to some of the research that has been conducted by Princeton sociologist Sara S. McLanahan. She discusses the positive impacts of a peaceful single-parent home, compared to a two-parent home filled with conflict. McLanahan’s research suggests that with all other factors remaining equal, a child is better served in a single-parent home if the alternative is otherwise constantly being exposed to his parents' fighting and instability.

Additional Financial Burdens

One of the disadvantages of a single-parent home is the likelihood of a greater financial struggle. Census information shows that most single-parent households are headed by a mother. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2009 found that single mothers are more than twice as likely to face unemployment and poverty, leading to a deeper struggle on behalf of the children who are thought to be at an increased risk of poverty and dropping out of high school themselves. Research supported by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, however, has indicated that stable single-parent homes may not lead to the same downfalls.

Absentee Parent

In single-parent homes where divorce has led to one parent becoming less involved in her children’s lives, Barajas points to a literature review written by Henry Biller that suggests children may have an increased difficulty forming peer relationships 2. Lower test scores have also been noted, as well as decreased motivation. When at all possible, both parents in a divorce should continue maintaining active parenting roles in order to avoid these possible outcomes.