No evidence that children of single-parent households are negatively impacted, new study finds

A study conducted by Gingerbread – a charity supporting single-parent families – and the University of Sheffield, has revealed that the wellbeing of children living with a single parent is the same, if not higher, than those in a two-parent family household.

Key findings from the report

The study – named Family Portrait: Single parent families and transitions over time – was conducted over six years with more than 27,800 households with children examined. Released at the end of last year, the report measures the children’s wellbeing by looking at three key factors: ‘life satisfaction’, ‘feelings about their family’ and ‘the quality of relationships with peers’. On all accounts, the report concluded that there was no evidence that children’s wellbeing was negatively affected if they were living or have lived in a single-parent household compared with those living in two-parent families.

Children’s Wellbeing

The children in the study were asked to self-report on their wellbeing and rate their feelings on their family and peer relationships on a scale up to five.

For ‘life satisfaction’, children who had always lived with a single parent ranked higher than those who were in two-parent households. Children in single-parent families believed their life satisfaction sat at 2.22 out of 5. This was closely followed by those who had lived with a single parent at some point (2.19 out of 5) and then those living in two-parent households at 2.02 out of 5.

A similar pattern was revealed when asked how they feel about their family: those who had always lived with a single parent or had previously lived with a single parent were more positive – averaging at 1.71 – compared with those who had never lived with a single parent (1.54).

The final self-report saw children who lived in single-parent households have less problematic relationships among their peers than those in two-parent families. Children from two-parent households ranked peer problems at 4.62, followed by those who had always lived in a single parent family at 4.02 and then children who had previously lived with a single parent at 3.92.

Despite other data suggesting that 1 in 4 households are headed by single parents, the report noted around a third (32%) of families will have been a single parent family for at least some point over the six years examined. This concludes that single parenthood is much more common than is typically suggested.

1 in 7 single parents get married or cohabit

14% of single parents were reported to transition out of single parenthood by either getting married or cohabiting with a partner – and of these parents, almost three quarters re-partnered with the child’s biological parent.

The study looked at different family types over the course of six years and examined any changes in the family structure:

  • 84% of single parents due to bereavement remained single, while 16% re-partnered.
  • 94% of those married stayed the same, while 3% cohabited and 3% separated or divorced
  • 77% of those cohabiting remained in their living situation, while 11% married and 12% separated.

Consistent with official statistics, the study proved that cohabiting parents were the most likely family group to experience a change in their living situation. However, the report discovered that cohabiting was as important a route to marriage as single parenthood.

Professor Nathan Hughes from the University of Sheffield commented on the data:

“These findings have clear implications for how single-parent families should be understood, valued and supported. Stereotyping single parenthood as a problem is inaccurate and immoral.”

Chief Executive at Gingerbread, Rosie Ferguson, concluded:

“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 important to a child’s wellbeing is the presence of positive relationships.”

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