It is popularly believed that the nuclear family, consisting of mother, father, and children, is the most psychologically healthy living arrangement for children. The basis for this belief is the assumption that children need both adult male and female figures from whom they can learn sex-appropriate behavior and after whom they can pattern their interests and activities. For this reason, it is maintained, single-parent families not only place an extra burden on the parent but also create identity problems for the child. It can be argued, however, that a home situation in which the parents do not get along has a greater potential for psychologically damaging the child than a one-parent home resulting from separation or divorce. Furthermore, in most instances the children of single parents are closer to that parent than children in two-parent households are to either of their parents.
Of all American children who were under age 18 in 1995, approximately 27% were living with only one parent and 69% were living with both parents. As illustrated in Figure 7-3, 78% of non-Hispanic white children, 63% of Hispanic children, and 33% of black children lived in two-parent households. However, in many of these households, both parents performed remunerative work outside the home. Of all households containing children under age 18, both parents were employed outside the home in 37% of the cases in
One parent (total)
H White Ü Black 11 Hispanic
Figure 7-3 Living arrangements of children under 18. (Based on data from Saluter, 1996.)
which there were children under age 6,42% of the cases in which there were children aged 6-11, and 46% of the cases in which there were children aged 12-17 (Saluter, 1996). Many of the couples with young children arranged to work split shifts, so one parent could be at home while the other was working. Furthermore, although mothers now spend less time with their children than ever before, fathers and day-care employees have assumed greater responsibility in meeting the needs of infants and young children.
The effects on young children of the mother's daily absence at work are certainly a matter of concern, but the overall research findings provide little evidence of developmental delays in the behaviors of such children. In addition, working mothers are happier, higher in self-esteem, lower in depression, and manifest fewer signs of stress than mothers who want to work but have to remain at home (Hoffman, 1986). Because the time that they spend with their children is more likely to be "quality time," working mothers are often better parents than mothers who stay at home but would rather be employed.
The situation for single mothers is not quite so favorable as it is for working mothers who are married. However, separation, divorce, and premarital childbearing has caused one-parent families to be much more common today than they were two or three decades ago. This is true for all races in combination as well as separately. For all races combined, approximately 23% of children under age 18 live with their mothers in one-parent households. Included in this figure are the 16% of non-Hispanic white children, 28% of Hispanic children, and 52% of black children living with their mothers alone (see Figure 7-3).
The U.S. Bureau of the Census has estimated than 60% of American children spend at least some time in a one-parent family (Kotre &Hall, 1990). The single parent may be a divorced or widowed spouse, but in an increasing number of cases, the parent, who is usually the mother, has never been married. Some of these unmarried mothers have either given birth by choice or adopted a child, but most are young women or teenagers who did not plan the births. They may attempt to rear their children by themselves, but, lacking adequate financial resources, many must turn to relatives or other sources for assistance.
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