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Hofferth study challenges common wisdom about single parenting

Income level, not family structure, has the biggest impact on parenting practices

When it comes to good parenting practices, income level is more important than family structure, according to a new study by MPRC faculty associate Sandra Hofferth. Hofferth analyzed recent data on parenting practices compiled by the US Census Bureau. She found that although there were some differences by family type, most American parents—whether they were married, divorced, single, or unmarried and co-habiting—read to their children, monitor their children’s media exposure, engage their children in extra-curricular activities, and make an effort to regularly eat meals together with their kids. On many of the positive parenting indicators the Census Bureau reported, children in families headed by two unmarried parents were similar to children in families with only one parent (who were also likely to be poor), suggesting that it is not the number of parents, but having low resources that dramatically limits involvement in clubs, lessons and sports. This also limits important opportunities for skill-building and social development.   

“The big issue is resources,” Hofferth suggests. “Our rate of child poverty in the US is extremely high – 22 percent overall and 26 percent for kids 6 and under. We should be concerned about this because it does make a difference in terms of what parents do with children and that can have long term consequences for kids’ outcomes and ultimately societal outcomes.” Other nations have addressed this issue by providing more resources to make sure that families who participate in the work force will have sufficient resources so that they will rear healthy and socially and academically successful children with many opportunities to succeed, through tax credits for employment, for children, and for child care expenses, plus paid parental leave.  Thus child poverty rates in Scandinavia average 3 to 4 percent and those of Western Europe average only 9 percent, compared with 22 percent in the United States.

Read more about the study

Read the story on Slate

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Read the briefing paper