Figure 1 shows children’s living arrangements in specific years, but it does not tell us what percentage of children ever live with a single mother while they are growing up. Demographers estimate that more than half of all American children are now likely to live with a single mother at some point before they reach age 18, even though only 24 percent live with a single mother in any one year. The difference between the two estimates reflects the fact that married mothers often separate, divorce, or (less often) become widows, while unmarried mothers often marry or remarry. As a result, many children live with a single mother for only a few years.
Although, these three cause of the recent rise in divorce rates are expressed above, there are also two effects of the recent increase of divorce rates: negative effects and positive effects
Firstly, the effects of recent enlargement in divorce rates are negative effects.
It has been observed that the divorce rates are higher in certain places like Europe and America, where individual freedom is given more importance, than in Asian or African nations, where familial and social opinions are highly stressed upon.
Millions of women were suddenly on their own at a time when women were still having to prove themselves to many employers. But I remember being impressed by a college friend’s mother whose divorce wasn’t the disaster her family feared: she marched into a high-profile non-profit in Chicago and landed an impressive job.
Moynihan’s claim that growing up in a fatherless family reduced a child’s chances of educational and economic success was furiously denounced when the report appeared in 1965, with many critics calling Moynihan a racist. For the next two decades few scholars chose to investigate the effects of father absence, lest they too be demonized if their findings supported Moynihan’s argument. Fortunately, America’s best-known black sociologist, William Julius Wilson, broke this taboo in 1987, providing a candid assessment of the black family and its problems in The Truly Disadvantaged. Since then, social scientists have accumulated a lot more evidence on the effects of family structure. This article will offer some educated guesses about what that evidence means.
Was Moynihan right in suggesting that children whose parents divorce or never marry have more than their share of problems? This question has been hotly debated ever since the publication of Moynihan’s report. On the one hand, growing up without both biological parents is clearly associated with worse average outcomes for children than growing up with them. Specifically, children growing up with a single mother are exposed to more family instability and complexity, they have more behavior problems, and they are less likely to finish high school or attend college than children raised by both of their parents. On the other hand, these differences in children’s behavior and success might well be traceable to differences that would exist even if the biological father were present.
The review’s authors examined the effects of a father’s absence on outcomes in four domains: educational attainment, mental health, labor market performance, and family formation. Growing up with only one biological parent reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent, which is similar to the effect of having a mother who did not finish high school rather than one who did. The absence of one’s biological father has not been shown to affect a child’s verbal and math test scores, however. The evidence for other indicators of educational performance, such as high school grades, skipping school, and college aspirations, is mixed, with some studies finding that father absence lowers school attendance and aspirations and others finding no effect. Most studies find larger effects on boys than on girls.
The study finds that couples who are cohabiting at the time of the child’s birth split up much sooner than couples who were married. Nearly half of cohabiting parents break up within five years of the child’s birth, compared to only 20 percent of married parents. Once a mother’s relationship with her baby’s father ends, she is likely to form relationships with new partners, and she typically has one or more children with a new partner. Of course, divorced mothers also form new partnerships and often have children with their new partners. But the interval before this occurs is usually longer among divorced mothers than among mothers who are cohabiting or living alone at the time of their child’s birth. Among the latter group, 61 percent live with a new partner and 11 percent live with three or more new partners before the child is five years old. Among mothers who are married at the time of a birth, those proportions are only 8 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
How might we reconcile the fact that a father’s absence affects high school graduation with the lack of evidence that it affects test scores? The answer appears to be that a father’s absence increases antisocial behavior, such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. These antisocial behaviors affect high school completion independent of a child’s verbal and math scores. Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment not by altering their scores on cognitive tests but by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control. The effects of growing up without both parents on aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls. Since these traits predict both college attendance and graduation, the spread of single-parent families over the past few decades may have contributed to the growing gender gap in college attendance and graduation. The gender gap in college completion is much more pronounced among children raised by single mothers than among children raised in two-parent families.
When we turn to black-white differences in the effects of single motherhood on children, we might expect the effects to be more negative for black than for white children, particularly for black boys, because single black mothers are younger, less educated, and poorer than single white mothers. Yet the fact that single motherhood has long been more common among blacks than whites could also have helped black families develop better systems for coping with a father’s absence. Consistent with these conflicting hypotheses, there is no strong evidence either that single motherhood has different effects on black children than on white children or that the effects are the same. A few studies find weaker effects for blacks, and other studies find no significant racial difference.
On the other hand, some couples having children in their family should think deliberatively before they end their marriage in divorce; otherwise innocent children probably become victims for this situation.