June 2, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Continuing with the Families First study of child poverty in New Zealand, a number of interesting issues arise. Here’s the study itself.
The author, Lindsay Mitchell, points out basic facts that had never occurred to me but should be a central part of any discussion of child poverty. For example, compared to the 1960s, people are marrying later in life and they’re having fewer children whether married or not. Both facts are common knowledge.
In 1961 the average number of births per woman was 4.31. Today the number is less than half that at 1.992…
Children apparently cost a great deal to bring up. Intuitively then, the fewer they have, the lower the financial burden on parents should be. Families today should be richer, not poorer…
The median age of first-time mothers is also higher than in the past. In the early 1960s it was 23; now it is 304. The age when men become fathers has also risen. As people tend to accumulate wealth and increase incomes over their lifetimes, delayed childbirth should also point to wealthier parents.
Very interesting. Adults are marrying later in life than they used to. That means they’re more established in their careers and have more stable jobs. Plus, women are giving birth to far fewer children than in the 60s, fewer than half as many in fact. And since children cost money to care for and raise, the obvious conclusion must be that families with children are wealthier now than they were in the 60s.
But they’re not. Indeed, there are almost twice as many Kiwi children living in poverty today than just 30 years ago. The New Zealand government’s statistics tell the tale.
In 2014, 23 percent of children lived in such households (blue line); in 1982, the proportion was 12%.
How can that be? Surely deferred childbearing plus fewer children must mean wealthier families, not poorer ones, but the data demonstrate the opposite. How is that possible?
The answer is that, along with those other trends, another has developed – the rise in single-parent households. In the 60s, only about 4% - 5% of households in New Zealand had a single parent. By 1981, the number had risen to about 14%. By 2014, it stood at 23%.
And, from the 60s to today, household incomes were dropping. New Zealand data on household incomes are divided up into six segments. In 1966, only 5% of households fell into the bottom two segments. In 2013, 25% of households did. That astonishing rise in household poverty can be laid squarely at the door of single parenthood.
Children living in sole-parent (SP) households experience significantly higher poverty rates than those in two-parent (2P) households and other family households (62%, 15% and 18% respectively in 2013 and 2014 on average).
In 2014, of all children below the poverty threshold, 51% lived in single parent families.
That last is true despite the fact that single-parent households are a minority of the total. And yet they still account for over half of families living below the poverty line.
Looked at another way, two parent families are still the dominant type but only 15 percent of children in those households fall below the poverty line compared to 62 percent in single parent households.
Plus, single parents are less likely to be employed than are dual parents.
While child poverty also occurs among two parent families, its severity and longevity tend to differ, primarily because two parent families generally derive their income from the market which is subject to fluctuations; single parents are more likely to derive their income from a benefit17 which is reasonably static and not subject to market fluctuations. Ironically, while benefit income is more secure, market income is more likely to improve over time.
That raises a pithy question: why are single parents more likely than dual parents to rely on government assistance, even though the benefit is poor? What is it that attracts single parents to a meager dole while two parent families tend to support themselves even with the attendant uncertainties that entails?
It’s a question I don’t have an answer for, but, generally speaking, the great majority of single parents are mothers and, at least in the U.S. they earn about 33% less than single fathers with custody of children. Again, generally speaking, women work fewer hours and at lower paying jobs than do men, mostly because they tend to opt, when possible, for caring for their children instead of paid work. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that a secure, albeit low, income that allows them to care for children instead of working for pay is sufficient inducement to mothers to do what they want to do anyway.
That conclusion is buttressed by the figures on the net worth of single parents. Amazingly, single fathers with children have a median net worth over 11 times that of single mothers with children.
“Families with dependent children had lower net worth than people with older, non-dependent, children, while sole parents had lower net worth than couple parents. Sole fathers had considerably higher median net worth than sole mothers ($28,200 compared with $2,500).”
Then there’s a miscellany of other factors about single parenthood that all point in the same direction – lower incomes and greater poverty.
But home ownership rates are also low among single parents. In 2001 only 9.7% of single parent householders owned their own home. The largest group of homeowners was couple-with-children at 42%.
When debt ratios – dollars of debt versus every $100 dollars of assets – are measured, single parents have $56 for three or more children whereas couples have $18 for three or more children…
Also well recognised is the link between education and incomes.20 At December 2005, 48% of sole parents on welfare had no educational qualification; 44 percent had school qualifications only.
In the United States, we have an overall rate of single-mother childbearing of about 40%. But that masks the dramatic difference in mothers without a college education and those with. Just 8% of women with a college education choose to have children out of wedlock.
I’ll deal more with this fascinating study in the near future.
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