“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
Global Social Change for Single Parent
Family structures are changing all over the world. One modern aspect of social change for single parents is the increasing number of single parent households. Current statistics show that in North America, Oceania, and Europe, about one-fifth of children live in single parent households. In the United States, the rate is 27% in the U.K. and New Zealand it stands at 24%. Experts expect these numbers to continue to rise.
One of the reasons for this increase is that the meaning of marriage has changed over the years. With more career opportunities available for women, marriage has become more of an option than the financial necessity it once was. Additionally, attitudes towards both religion and women’s sexuality have changed. For example, it was once common to refer to children born “out of wedlock” as “bastard children”. Today, stigmatizing a child with that label would be almost unthinkable.
Social Change for Single Parents—the Role of Social Stigma
Similarly, although the social stigma once associated with single parenthood still exists, it is not as severe as it was in the past. Unmarried couples and parents living together has become common practice in many countries. For example, in North America, about four in 10 children, or 41%, are born outside of marriage. In Canada, the rate is 27%, and in Mexico, 55%.
An article in the Guardian points out that much of the stigma of single parenthood has been unfairly directed at women and is largely the product of sexual double standards. Women were held singularly responsible for controlling both their own, and their suitors’, sexual urges. Those who failed in this social responsibility were often forced to give their children up for adoption and were shunned by society as “fallen women”.
In recent years, society has begun to shift some of that responsibility to men in the form of DNA testing and child support laws. It is no longer considered socially acceptable for a man to escape supporting his children simply by refusing to marry their mother. Existing economic conditions within individual countries also plays a part in the amount of social stigma associated with single parenthood. Usually, in times of prosperity, the stigma decreases, while it increases in times of economic hardship.
Challenges of Social Change for Single Parents
According to 2012 data, there is an educational gap between children raised in single parent households compared to those raised in two parent households. A standardized test administered by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been given every three years since the year 2000 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The test includes measures the math, science, and reading achievement of 15-year-old students in 28 participating countries.
In almost every country, students living in single-parent households had lower achievement scores than those in two-parent households. In the United States, there was an average difference of 27 points, which is equal to approximately one grade level. However, it was also shown that the presence of books in the home affected those figures. Because the presence of books in the home is a factor, one positive social change for single parents and their children would be an increase in mobile libraries.
Past studies revealed academic disparities between different racial groups, disparities which were later shown to be the result of poverty rather than ethnicity. Similarly, it is impossible to ignore statistics which demonstrate the number of single parent households living in poverty. For example, in the United States, 45% of all female single parent households lived at or below the poverty level, compared to 21% of male single parent households.
The link between poverty and low academic scores is well documented, with some experts believing it to be the most important contributing factor linked to academic failure.
Positive Social Change for Single Parents
Despite the discouraging economic statistics for single parents, there has been a great deal of positive social change for single parents. For example, many single parents are coming together and creating communities which in many ways serve as extended families. These communities, in addition to providing emotional support, also enable people to barter child care and other goods and services that improve the quality of family life, rather than paying for it.
Modern social support systems for single parents also include a number of non-profit organizations that provide education, activities, and valuable social connections to struggling families. As many governments are cutting benefits, single parents are beginning to depend more on one another. The benefits to children are incalculable.
All studies show that the more adult role models and positive emotional support a child receives, the better. While the industrial revolution separated us, the technological revolution is re-connecting us. No matter how much technological progress we make, when it comes to raising happy healthy children, it’s always going to take a village.