Family and Community

From the Data Book

Child wellbeing is intricately connected to the wellbeing of the communities that children live in. Lack of livable wages, economically segregated neighborhoods and schools, and growing incarceration rates can take a toll on children. But where robust safety nets, broad networks of support, and educational and employment options exist in a community, children are much more likely to thrive.

Recent research has highlighted the link between family composition and child wellbeing. While children growing up in single parent families often do not have access to the same economic or human resources as those in two-parent families, we don’t always have a complete picture of the makeup of supposedly single-parent households. One third of kids in “single parent families” live in households with a cohabitating (non-married) partner. Many live in households that also include grandparents and other relatives. More and more young adults are living with their families into their thirties.

Women are much more likely to be parenting alone than men. Households headed by women are nearly twice as likely to be truly single parent families, without the presence of another adult, and these households are more likely to be struggling to get by on poverty-level incomes. While nationally women make 78 cents to every dollar earned by men, single mothers make only 58 cents on the dollar.

The association of single parenthood with poverty is not inevitable. In countries where childcare subsidies, paid family leave, and a livable minimum wage are broadly available, the gap in outcomes for children is greatly reduced. Households with multiple adults can be buffered by multiple incomes or in-home childcare, but for single mothers, the most common exit from poverty is not partnership: it is increased wages. If the 58 cents on the dollar wage gap was eliminated, the average single mother would have enough extra money to cover 2 years of rent, nearly 3 years of childcare, or 3.5 years of food for her family.