Single Parents May Do as Well as Two: Study

SATURDAY Sept. 5, 2009 -- Family stability -- regardless of whether it's a one- or two-parent household -- may help a child succeed in school and life, a new study shows.

The findings, by an Ohio State University professor, challenge the conventional wisdom that two-parent households are always best for children. A single parent marrying or moving in with a partner may be as disruptive to a child as a divorce, the author suggests.

"Based on this study, we can't say for sure that marriage will be a good thing for the children of single mothers, particularly if that marriage is unhealthy and does not last," Claire Kamp Dush, an assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State, said in a university news release.

Only in black families did Kamp Dush find a particular advantage in children always living with two parents as opposed to growing up with only one. Black children from stabled married families scored better on reading and math tests than those from single-parent families. Otherwise, regardless of race, the children of stable single-parent households did as well academically and behaviorally as their counterparts in married households.

"Our results suggest that the key for many children is growing up in a stable household, where they don't go through divorce or other changes in the family, whether that is in a single-parent home or a married home," she said.

The findings appear in "Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities," a recently published book that Kamp Dash co-edited. She looked at information gathered from nearly 5,000 households nationwide during two long-term periods over three decades. While many past studies show an advantage for children growing up in married households, Kamp Dush notes those did not distinguish between family structure and family stability.

For example, in one breakdown of the data, Kamp Dush compared similar households where the only difference was whether the mother was single or married during the entire study and found little difference in how the children did in school or otherwise.

"My message to single moms is to think carefully before they decide to get married or live with a partner," she said. "Both romantic relationships and parenting are hard work. Unless you think that you and your partner can make it for the long haul, I think it would be better for single moms to avoid moving in with romantic partners. Family transitions are hard for kids."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about raising happy and healthy children.

Posted: September 2009


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