Most children who live with only one parent live with their mothers, and we often equate single parenthood with single motherhood. Nevertheless, about 14 percent of children who live apart from a parent at age sixteen are living with their fathers. Thus, it makes sense to ask whether children do better when they live with single-fathers than with single mothers.
Men usually become single-fathers when the mother is unwilling or unable to take care of the child. There are several reasons for thinking that fathers might make better single parents than mothers. Clearly, fathers have more income. If lack of economic resources is the key to why divorce has a negative effect on children, we might expect children in single-father families to do better than children in single-mother families. However, a father in the family bears a male role model, which may be especially important for boys. On the contrary, children in single-father families may be living in far worse conditions than those in single-mother families.
Overall, single-fathers seem to provide less rather than more childcare than married fathers. However, the variations of childcare time among single-fathers with different living arrangements suggests that the single-fathers who live by themselves are perhaps the group that should be compared with married and cohabiting fathers, given that these “sole” single-fathers are the ones who actually take care of their children alone and are fully responsible for their children.
The welfare system exacerbates the lack of meaningful support of single-father families. A significant proportion of divorced parents as well as never-married single parents, turn to welfare as a temporary, necessary evil. According to Robila (2014), “The dynamic of the welfare system explicitly condemns single parents, especially never-married single parents”(276). Furthermore, the system propagates poverty. And to an even more perverse extent, it discourages fathering.
Further, single-fathers are less likely to receive economic help from either the welfare or the child support system. Some of the difference in welfare receipt is because even within the categories of poor and near poor, single mothers are worse off than single fathers (Sexton, 2009). There is a stigma for men in receiving welfare; perhaps they have more resources (saving, friends with money) than single mothers. The huge disparity in the degree which single parent acquire welfare support could also be attributed by believing that welfare programs are available only to single mothers. It is also possible that the welfare system treats men differently from women, discouraging their application or examining their assets and income more carefully.
Cohabiting fathers between 32-35 years are substantially younger than their married or single fathers with a mean age of 39. Cohabiting fathers are the most likely to be from a minority group (41%), followed by non-cohabiting single fathers (33%) and married fathers (25%). Another analyses indicate that almost 17% of the children living with single fathers are well-behaved compared to those living with both parents. However, the statistics indicate that the welfare system provides rare support: 5% to single father and 12% to single mothers, which is not proportional to the demand (Robila, 2014).
Two recent studies have examined issue associated with the difficulties experienced by single fathers. Lamb (2004) used a self-completed questionnaire to study a volunteer sample of 409 fathers recruited through Parents Without Partners. The most significant difficulties noted were: feeling of loneliness, conflicts between work and the demand for the child care, financial difficulties (especially caused by having to employ others to care for children), and problem with children (mentioned as a major issue by 37% of fathers). Katz concludes that more attention needs to be given to the special issues associated with being a single father and advocates several policy initiatives.
Blank, R. M. & Haskins, R. (2001). The new world of welfare. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press.
Lamb, M. E. (2004). The role of the father in child development. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Robila, M. (2014). Handbook of family policies across the globe. New York, NY: Springer.
Sexton, T. J. (2009). Single fathers’ experiences accessing the welfare system.