News Release

Implications of New Census Data on Rise of Single-Parent Families


New census data released today show an increase in single-parent families. “The portion of the country’s total 105.5 million households that were headed by single fathers with children living there doubled in a decade, to 2 percent,” the Associated Press reports. AP added that “single-mother homes made up 7 percent of all households in 2000, up from 5 percent over 30 years ago.”

Responding to the data, the author of a new book on families and economics said this afternoon that “many mothers and fathers stay involved with their children even if they don’t live in a traditional married family household.” Nancy Folbre, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts and author of The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values, is available for interviews.

“If the increase in single-father households is a signal that fathers want to be more directly involved in child-rearing, that’s good news,” Folbre said today. “But instead of worrying so much about the demographic characteristics of families (whether they are married, live in the same household, what the gender of the household head is), we should be worrying more about parents’ success in staying involved with their children and maintaining a cooperative and healthy relationship with a co-parent.”

Folbre added: “Our current public policies don’t provide adequate help to parents raising children on their own. Custodial parents often don’t get the financial support they need, because states tend to set child support levels too low and to enforce them poorly for all except those receiving public assistance. States have a financial incentive to prosecute poor non-custodial parents, because their child support payments go directly into state coffers to defray public assistance costs rather than to their own children.”

In addition, Folbre said, “Non-custodial parents often don’t get the visitation and access rights they need, because these are set by courts. Changing them often requires a lengthy, expensive and aggravating legal procedure. We could do much better if we moved this issue out of the legal system, set some clear guidelines, and provided family arbitration services on the community level.”

Meanwhile, she said, “we shouldn’t stigmatize single-parent families just because they don’t conform to some traditional stereotype, or because they violate the personal, ethical or religious standards of influential members of our society.”

For further information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

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