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Study Spanning Almost a Decade Reveals The Impact Single-Parent Families Have on Kids

DAVID NIELD
5 JAN 2019

Kids' well-being isn't negatively affected by whether they've got one parent living at home or two, according to a new report – one that also shows that single parenthood is actually more common than we might have thought.

 

Data was collected from 27,834 households in the UK between 2009 and 2017. Children who had always lived in single parent families scored as high or higher as those who had always lived with both parents in terms of life satisfaction, the quality of their peer relationships, or their positivity about family life.

The researchers behind the report are calling on governments and organisations working with single parent families not to automatically assume that life is going to be tougher for those kids who only have one parent around at home.

"We have been supporting single parent families for a hundred years and we know first-hand how strong and diverse single parents and their families are," says Rosie Ferguson from the charity Gingerbread, which was involved in producing the report.

"Our report with the University of Sheffield debunks myths about single parent households and significantly, it shows that children are not negatively impacted if raised by a lone parent. What is most important to a child's well-being is the presence of positive relationships."

The team behind the report also wants to bring to light how changeable and diverse families can be. As many as one in three families will be headed by a single parent at some point during a six-year period, the research shows.

 

Over the same six-year window, one in seven single parents will get married or start cohabiting – and in three-quarters of cases it's with the biological parent of their child.

At any one point in time, the research found, 24 percent of families in the UK are headed by single parents. Of the rest, 13 percent are headed by cohabiting parents, and 63 percent by married parents. 

"By taking a more dynamic view of family life, these findings challenge common political and public narratives around single parents and their families," says lead researcher Sumi Rabindrakumar from Gingerbread.

"Not only is the experience of single parenthood more common than typically reported, but family and caring relationships are more complex and often extend beyond the household unit."

In particular, those drawing up official policies on child welfare should take into account the fluidity of modern-day families and separation, the researchers say: separation doesn't necessarily mean the second parent disappears from the scene.

The study authors highlight the broad range of factors involved in the wellbeing of kids – not just whether there are one or two parents living at home – including the wider support networks that young children may or may not have. Grandparent support was found to be more common in single parent families, for example.

In other words, the political narrative shouldn't always be that single parenthood is automatically a problem for children. Add that to the list of wrong assumptions debunked by science – like the idea that kids of gay parents are any worse off.

"We urge policymakers and researchers alike to do more to challenge popular stereotypes and reflect the dynamism of family life," says Ferguson.

You can read the full report online at the University of Sheffield.