In Canada, the number of single fathers is on the rise. That’s one result of the most recent census reported on here (National Post, 9/19/12). The article isn’t terribly informative, and some of its arithmetic is bad, but the 2011 census data show that about 1.2 million single mothers and about 300,000 single fathers with children, or, about an 80%/20% split. The number of single fathers is rising faster than the number of single mothers, but both are on the increase. A majority of single-parent households have only one child. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait til next year to learn the statistics on the financial status of single-parent households.
In the United States, according to 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 11,759,000 single parents with children under the age of 18. Of those, about 10,025,000 (85.3%) are mothers and 1,735,000 (14.7%) are fathers. Some 6,684,000 (57%) have only one child. About 19.2% of single fathers live below the poverty line, while a whopping 37.4% of single mothers do.
About 75% of single fathers are employed while 11% are not. Some 14% of single fathers are not in the labor force, i.e. they aren’t employed and they aren’t looking for work. Only about 65% of single mothers are employed, while 11.5% are unemployed and 23.5% are out of the labor force.
How people come to be single parents is interesting. For fathers, the greatest reason is divorce or separation, accounting for about 58% of all single fathers, while about 21% were never married. By contrast, only about 45% of single mothers are divorced or separated while a hefty 34% were never married. In short, men seem much more apt to become single parents in spite of their efforts to be married, while women seem more willing to choose single parenthood in lieu of marriage.
Of course, single parenthood, regardless of the sex of the single parent, is not the ideal arrangement for kids. Children need both parents if at all possible and suffer emotionally and psychologically the loss of either parent. What’s unclear is whether children suffer the loss of a mother as much as they do the loss of a father. The simple fact is that fatherlessness has been studied a lot because it’s so common, but we know less about the absence of a mother because courts are so likely to give mothers custody. Still there is some data, like a Danish study reported on in 1997, that found single fathers to be better at promoting their children’s welfare than mothers.
According to the study,
Children who grow up with a single father have better contact with all the grandparents and with mother than those who live alone with their mother. Fathers are less stressed and seldom hit their children.Of course the study is far from conclusive and even further from conclusive about families in the U.S. or Canada, but its finding that children living with their fathers are more likely to have continuing contact with their mothers and grandparents than children living with their mothers are to have contact with their fathers is interesting and surely the source of children’s better outcomes. What should also be mentioned is that, with more single fathers employed and fewer living below the poverty line, family finances at dad’s house are likely to be less likely to result in bad outcomes for children than in mother-headed households. Princeton sociologist Sarah McLanahan has found that about half of all deficits suffered by children of single mothers stem from their relative lack of family income.
A list of other analyses support the contention that children are best served by living with their father, according to senior researcher Morgens Nygård Christoffersen at the Danish Social Research Institute in Copenhagen.
“Children who live with father do not generally lose contact with their mother. Contact with all four grandparents is more likely for children who live with their father. Single fathers are usually less pressed for time and have fewer psychosoamtic reactions to stress than mothers. Fathers resist using smacking as a method of punishment on their children than mothers.
Canadian economist Paul Millar analyzed data from the country’s statistical agency, Stats Canada, and found them to suggest that paternal custody, more than maternal custody, tended to promote better outcomes for children. Millar was careful to point out, however, that the data weren’t definitive on that subject.
So, single parenthood continues to increase in Canada. That’s a bad thing for everyone. Single fatherhood is growing faster than single motherhood. That’s still not good, and the fact is that we don’t yet know its impact on children when compared to maternal child rearing.