June 3, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
To give an overall flavor of the Family First study out of New Zealand, here’s the report’s Executive Summary in full:
Despite families being much smaller, parents being older, mothers being better educated and having much higher employment rates, child poverty has risen significantly since the 1960s.
In 1961, 95 percent of children were born to married couples; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to 53 percent.
For Maori, 72 percent of births were to married parents in 1968; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to just 21 percent.
In 2015, 27 percent of registered births were to cohabiting parents. The risk of parental separation by the time the child is aged five is, however, 4-6 times greater than for married parents.
Cohabiting relationships are becoming less stable over time.
Cohabiting parents are financially poorer than married parents. They form an interim group between married and single parent families.
Single parent families make up 28 percent of all families with dependent children. These families are the poorest in New Zealand.
51% of children in poverty live in single parent families.
Single parents have the lowest home ownership rates and the highest debt ratios.
Children in sole parent families are often exposed to persistent poverty and constrained upward mobility.
Of registered births in 2015, 5% had no recorded father details and a further 15% had fathers living at a different home address to the mother.
Of all babies born in 2015, 17.5% (10,697) were reliant on a main benefit by the end of their birth year, over two thirds on a single parent benefit. Over half had Maori parents/caregivers.
The higher poverty rates for Maori and Pasifika children are reflected in the greater number of sole parent and cohabiting families.
Rapidly changing family structure has contributed significantly to increasing income inequality.
Child poverty is consistently blamed on unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and inadequate social security benefits. Little attention has been given to family structure.
Despite marriage being the best protector against child poverty it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view.
But if there is to be any political will to solve child poverty the issue has to be confronted.
The report therefore echoes one point I made in my previous post. The public discourse on child poverty all but completely ignores single parenthood. It does so, in the report’s words, because “it has become politically unfashionable… to express such a view.” That the political fashion trumps a sensible approach to a serious problem is of course disgraceful. It calls into question the true intentions of those who say they care about children living impoverished lives.
Into the bargain, children of single parents tend not only to be poor, but to remain that way. That’s largely because non-married couples who produce children are less stable than married couples with kids. And, post-separation or divorce, new couples tend to break up quicker than do originally married ones. That keeps the connection between single parenthood and poverty alive.
Finally, amazingly enough, the correlation between single parenthood and poverty is stronger than any other variable, including unemployment.
The correlation between sole parent and child poverty rates is stronger than between unemployment and child poverty rates. Unemployment is not as direct a cause of child poverty as sole parenting.
So, given the obvious detriments to all of single parenthood, how does it come about?
Sole parent families can be formed in various ways:
1/ A relationship breakdown (marriage or de facto)
2/ An un-partnered birth
3/ The death of a partner
4/ The imprisonment of a partner
There is limited data relating to what proportion of sole parent families has arisen from the first two pathways – by far the most common.
In 2010, the Families Commission view was that, “Sole-parent families most commonly come about through separation or divorce, but also through the birth of children to single women.” 28
In short, the two major ways single-parent families come into existence are the choices of the adults. They divorce or separate, or the child is born to a woman who’s not married to the father of the child. Of course there are various things that explain those choices, and not all arise from a casual attitude toward the consequences of one’s actions.
But my guess is that, given the easy availability of inexpensive contraception together with a zeitgeist that fails to discourage dysfunctional behavior regarding children, all too many children are conceived by parents who should know better, but who elect to do an irresponsible thing.
That of course is where Family First comes in. It’s also where countless other organizations, including the National Parents Organization, come in. Raising awareness of the serious consequences of single-parenthood is one of the important things those organizations do. But, as the Family First report makes clear, there’s a lot of pushback from many quarters against the idea that a sensible society would hammer home the message that, if you want to have a kid, be sure enough of your partner to marry him/her. And if you’re married, stay that way if at all possible. Finally, if divorce is the only option, be sure that both parents remain actively involved in the child’s life.
Those are constructive, necessary messages that everyone should hear, hear and hear again throughout their lives. But, contrary to all that’s healthy and sane, we seldom deliver those messages and, when we do, they’re usually “balanced” by others lauding single parents as “brave.”
For the most part, they’re not brave, they’re just irresponsible and/or unaware of the consequences for kids of single parenthood.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.