Single Parenthood The Effects On Childrens Academic Outcomes Education Essay


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Single parenthood is not a source of drawback but research on children's academic outcomes has proved to be the other way round (Olson et al.,1993). In an Atlantic magazine article entitled "Dan Quayle was right," Whitehead (1993, p.77) viewed the family breakdown connected with the rise in single parent households as "a central cause of many of our most vexing social problems."

Evidence from the study conducted by Dornsbusch et al. (1985) indicated that absences and behaviour problems in school are affected by the family structure. Family structure (number of parents and number of siblings) is also said to influence student academic achievement (Manning, 1998; Pong, 1997, 1998). Social psychologists like Sewell and Hauser (1980) believed that social processes in the home is concerned with the family's influence on the child's academic behaviours as parental expectations, parenting styles or parent-child communication. Adolescents who live in single parent households have lower grades than those living in intact families (Dornbusch et al., 1987).

Kinard and Reinherz (1984) found that third grade children who live with disrupted families had more attentive problems at school as compared to those who live with never-disrupted families or families that were disrupted when the child was in preschool. The impact of divorce influences the child's ability to attend school-related tasks. Roberts (1987) claimed that the separation or divorce of their parents leads to a loss of self esteem and rejection by one parent. The school work and behaviour of the children are affected by these changes. The classroom and the teacher act as stabilizing agents in the children's lives.

Single parent families have become more and more common nowadays, thus, research revealed that children from this type of households will suffer academically as compared to those from two parent families. This difference pertains to several reasons and this study will provide more explanations and research on the detrimental impact that single parenthood has on children's lives and the society in general. Allison and Furstenberg (1989), Blanchard and Biller (1971), Fowler and Richards (1978), Guidubaldi et al. (1983), Hess and Camara (1979), Santrock (1972), Sciara (1975), Shinn (1978), Sutton-Smith et al. (1968) found that there is a cognitive deficit in performance between children in divorced or fatherless families and those in intact families. Hetherington et al. (1985) stated that boys living with single parents are more likely to show angry aggressive behaviour at school and at home. Guttman et al. (1987) argued that children who have divorced parents have a bad academic performance as compared to those with two parent families. Ratings by parents and teachers that focused on the academic skills of reading, math, and spelling were lower for children from divorced families than those from intact families (Gelbrich & Hare 1989; Guidubaldi 1989).

Moreover, children from divorced homes were more likely than children from intact families to have repeated a grade, to have been referred to a school psychologist for services, and/or to receive special education services (Guidubaldi, Perry & Nastasi 1986; Kinard & Reinherz 1984). From a study conducted by Shreeve et al. (1986), it was found that the performance of children from divorced families were lower than children from intact families when class standings and grade point were compared. McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) and Wallerstein (1991) claimed that the lower test score performance, lower grade point averages and poorer attendance revealed their underachievement. When they were asked about their expectations relating to college, 32 percent of children living in divorced families had ambitions to attend college and 37 percent of children from intact families planned to attend college. As such there was a five percent difference between the two groups. Their lower academic achievement and fewer years of education proved their vulnerability in terms of income and its effect on their lifestyle.

From five longitudinal studies, McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) summarized that nearly 48 to 54 percent of children living in single parent families were enrolled in college and 15 to 20 percent graduate from college. On the other hand, 51 to 61 percent of children living in two parent families enroll in college and 21 to 37 % graduate from college. McLanahan and Sandefur (1994) claimed that divorce leads to the loss of social and economic resources owing to a loss in the household income, residential mobility and meeting with the non-custodial parent. Such drastic changes occurring in the life of a child produce social stress.

The altered family structure has a negative influence on the parent-child relationships and interactions. This leads to behavioural changes in the child. The child's poor cognitive ability, low achievement at school and social-emotional aspects of his life were reflected in his adjustment to divorce. Also the child's level of maternal education is decreased.

Divorce is one of the causes of single motherhood but the proportion of children with single mother as a result of out-of-wedlock pregnancy is multiplying. Today, one third of the births are from non married mothers. According to McLanahan et al. (2001), this type of family can have limited human capital and financial resources. A lack of economic resources available in single parent households who are poorer than two-parent families have a negative impact on children's educational performance (McLanahan, 1958). McLanahan and Sandefur argued that the income of the single parent families and that of the intact families explains the differences in children's test scores, grades, college enrollment and college graduation. McLanahan conducted studies on the impact that family structure has on high school completion and years of school completed by children by the age of 23. It was found that although the negative effect of living in single parent family was diminished by income for Whites, a small independent effect for both races still prevails.

A similar explanation of the detrimental impact of single parenthood on the academic achievement of children demonstrates the lack of social capital in single-parent families. Coleman (1988) believed that the number of parents in a family indicates the social capital available. Also, he claimed that the amount of time single parents spend with their children promotes fewer interactions with their children than those in two-parent families and so their children are provided with less supportive learning environment, parental finances and education. Brooks-Gunn et al. (1999) discovered that there is a link between family income and children's attainment.

McLanahan (1985), Milne, Myers, Rosenthal, and Ginsburg (1986) stated that on average, single parent families tend to be low-income families. The importance of the family structure was found to be related to the child outcomes. The amount of money which the single parent invest in his or her children's studies influence the latter's' academic achievement. Single motherhood diminishes the economic resources available to families (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; Page and Stevens, 2002) as non-custodial fathers provide less money in their children's household.

By reducing income and searching for a greater paid job, single mothers increase the time children must spend in household chores and working for pay, which in turn negatively affect their educational achievement and progress (Garfinkel and McLanahan, 1986). As such, family income was found to influence children's educational aspirations, their status among peers, the extent to which their lives are stable and the insecurity within their family. As such, family income was found to influence children's educational aspirations, their status among peers, the extent to which their lives are stable and the insecurity within their family.

Becker's (1965,1981) theory of household production stipulated that the academic attainment of the children is an output of the parent's income and time and is viewed as a commodity wished by the family. Time spent in the labour market provide income to buy goods and services and combine with non market hours in household production. The parent's inability to combine these resources leads to under achievement of children. Increased achievement of the children is believed to be increase by additional inputs by the parents. Fleisher (1977) and Leibowitz (1974a,b) argued that educational achievement of children is correlated with parental time, especially of the mother and to inputs of income (Bowles,1972; kiker and Condon, 1981). Time and money act as constraints in all families but there is a limitation of these resources in single parent families. Espenshade (1979) believed that when a two parent family changes to a single parent one, income decreases. Hoffman (1977) claimed that separated or divorced mothers' economic status declines but on the other hand the status of their male counterparts ameliorates.

Educational attainment of the child is negatively influenced by the limited family income which decreases financial support for further education and enhancing early entry into the job market. Restriction of the time spent with the children comes from the absence of the father. Furstenberg et al. (1983) stipulated that are more likely not to contact their children than seeing them once in 12 months.

Furthermore, the absence of the father promotes the reduction of time the mother is available to the child. Brandwein, Brown and Fox (1974) believed that children living in female headed families are more deprived of their parents because the mothers are forced to engage in time and energy consuming activities. Though the mother do not need to provide time for her husband, her home time inputs in childbearing is decreased because there is a need for her to accomplish the tasks done by the father in two parent families. Robinson (1980) discovered that less time is spent in child rearing practices by single mothers. Single mothers have to devote more time to their job and less to the upbringing of her children than married mothers (Duncan and Hoffman, 1985). As such, the structural difference between having two parents and a single mother negatively affect parenting.

Norton and Glick (1986) found that 60% of American children live in single parent families which lack most of the resources available in a two-parent family especially time and money. It is important to use the resources in the human capital such as the skill, knowledge and abilities of the children. Children living in single parent families suffer from the deprivation of these basic resources, psychological and socioeconomic consequences. The educational attainment is seen to be a long-term socioeconomic outcome. Bane and Ellwood (1983) believed that education either promotes welfare or leads to poverty. Unemployment is determinant of lack of education.

Entwistle et al. (1995) provided other explanations which entails the meager material resources of single parents and the time pressures on them, owing to which they are unable to participate in their children's schooling. Lower income families have fewer academic materials at home and hence, cannot improvise enrichment outside of school. The single parent's involvement in the child's schooling is low, their supervision is lesser and their expectation of the child is lower. Low monetary and non monetary resources justify the lower academic achievement of single parent children compared to those with intact families. A study by Cooksey et al. (1997) revealed that when the statistics of the monetary and nonmonetary resources are controlled, the effect of single parenthood is decreased.

The lower availability of energy and time enhances the single employed mothers to be less available to supervise their children's activities and schoolworks which leads to the decrease of their academic achievement and hence they will be more negatively influenced by their peers.

L.Hoffman (1986) believed that work takes time and energy away from the family.

As cited in the Book of "Inequality at the starting gate-Social differences in achievement as children begin school" differences in achievement scores of children in literacy and mathematics were found on the basis of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and social background.

Differences in children's test scores were found in terms of race and ethnicity as they begin kindergarten. The cognitive scores of children with the highest SES were 60% above those of the lowest SES even before entering kindergarten. Furthermore, the math achievement was 21 % higher for Whites than Black children and 19% lower for Hispanics.

The family structure and the educational expectations are related to the SES and the children's test scores.

15% of White children, 54% of black and 27% of Hispanic children live in single parent families. 48% of single parent households are found in the lowest SES quintile.

Factors defining risk or educational disadvantage include race, ethnicity, poverty, single-parent family structure, poorly educated mothers, and limited English proficiency (Natriello et al. 1990).

Natriello et al. (1990) stated that about 40% of school-age children were at risk.

Brewster (1994) and Duncan (1994) conducted studies on neighbourhood effects and found that the family income, percentage of families in poverty and those headed by women contribute to achievement.

O'Hare (1996) claimed that the poverty rate is five times greater than two-parent families with children and is 44% in female headed families with children. Family income influences children's performance and academic measures.

In the U.S., as in most industrialized societies, education is a key factor for predicting social mobility (Blau & Duncan 1967; Erikson & Goldthorpe 1992; Featherman & Hauser 1978; Sewell & Hauser 1975). From the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Dunifon discovered that children who live with single mothers are exposed to significant declines in their academic achievement. Beller et al. (1992) found that single parent families negatively influence children's attainment at school; enhance dropping out at school and lower chance of entering college. P.R. Amato and B. Keith (1991) conducted a Meta analysis on children living in divorced families. It was found that children living with a single parent have lower scores on measures of academic performance, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept, and social relations compared to those living with two parents. Haveman et al. (2001) claimed that American children with single parents are less likely to graduate from high school than those with two parent families. Lambert (1988) argued that it is appropriate to place children living in single parent families and those who experience family disruption in a special education class. On the other hand, Dunifon claimed that the test scores of children living with single mothers and a grandparent and those living with two parents do not differ.

Research on the SES has revealed that schools with high SES achieve more than those with low SES. Gamoran (1992) and Willms (1992) believed that schools enrolling students from high SES family background provide more efficient learning and higher academic performance.

Studies by Blau and Duncan (1967), Featherman and Hauser (1978) and Freeman (1974) revealed that males from single parent families have done fewer years of schooling than those living with two parents.

Parental involvement acts as an intervening variable to the functioning of the family background which affects academic achievement of children. A range of forms of involvement is analysed as to how they described two measures of academic achievement such as the academic test scores and grades and how they are limited by resources like income, education and time. Involvement in three contexts was examined: the home, community and school.

Many empirical studies have found a positive relationship between parental involvement and student's academic achievement.(Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts and Fraleigh (1987)). Parental involvement and encouragement are important influences on academic success. Discussion and encouragement when children are younger also increase the likelihood of their ultimately graduating from high school (Howell and Frese, 1982). Consistency of parental encouragement through the high school years is positively related to attending college, but less predictive of attendance at a twoyear college than a four-year college (Conklin & Dailey, 1981). High school dropouts report less parental monitoring of their activities and less discussion with parents (Ekstrom et al, 1986). Parents of dropouts may express their opposition to dropping out but not take any specific action to help their adolescent stay in school (Mahan & Johnson, 1983). Parental interest may by shown by the presence of "study aids" such as encyclopedias and dictionaries in the home, also related to the likelihood of staying in school (Ekstrom et al, 1986).

Evidence from Ho and Willms's (1996) study showed that the amount of parental participation in school positively influence the performance of eighth-grade students over the effect of individual parent's participation.

The negative influence of a single parent family on academic achievement is typical of parent-child relationships in such families. The parent-child relationship that leads to academic achievement reflects parental discipline, control, monitoring, concern, encouragement and consistency. Dornbusch et al. (1987) believed that permissive or strict parenting has a negative impact on children's grades. Single mothers are more likely to score higher on permissive parenting than two parent families.

Baydar and B.Gunn (1991), Bogenschneider and Steinberg (1994), Bronfenbrenner and Crouter (1982), Gold and Andres (1978), Hoffman (1979) and Milne et al. (1986) found that children-of all ages from preschool through high school, of full-time employed mothers do not perform well at school.

Research conducted by McLanahan (1985) revealed that students are at risk due to the stress of family breakup. Less parental supervision and lower achievement have been linked to the absence of a father. As the father is not present, the mother has to undertake a job and is less likely to be available to supervise her children's education. Students learn more and perform better at schools that have strong parental involvement (Goldring & Shapira, 1996; Ho & Willms, 1996), emphasize academic success (Lytton & Pyryt, 1998; Zigarelli, 1996) and have a disciplinary climate conductive to teaching and learning (DeBaryshe, Patterson, & Capaldi, 1993; Ma & Willms, 1995). Empirical evidence shows that single parents spend less time in supervising and monitoring their children's schooling. Single parents, are believed by researches, to have lower educational aspirations and expectations for their children. As Astone and McLanahan stipulated, these aspects lead to negative educational outcomes for those children. Furthermore, research by Drowney in 1994 have found that the parental involvement at school such as attendance at school functions and meetings, providing help in school chores and attending parent-teacher associations have cater for the low academic performance of children living in single mothers. Controlled SES in some studies (S. Lee, 1993) revealed that a lower verbal communication about school matters prevails between single parents and their children.

Single mothers have to devote more time to their job and less to the upbringing of her children than married mothers (Duncan and Hoffman, 1985). As such, the structural difference between having two parents and a single mother negatively affect parenting and thus, children's schooling. Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan (2004) stated that decreased quantity of parental time with children results in poor socialization, less involvement, less supervision and monitoring and emotional support. Maccoby and Martin (1983) found that children from single mother families are disadvantaged when effective socialization is reinforced by a second person.

However, S. Lee (1993) found a link between the low academic performance and behavioural problems of single-parented children to the low level of acquaintance with the parents of their peers.

Growing up with a single mother results in an ineffective parenting which in turn hurts child outcomes (Astone and McLanahan, 1991; Thomson, McLanahan, and Curtin, 1992). The type of parenting a single mother provides to her children may be due to the disruption that non-marital pregnancy or divorce has on her. Her psychological misbalance may lead to withdrawal, worse parenting or both (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991). 

The authoritative parenting style, characterized by warmth, interest and concern along with clear rules and limits, has a positive effect on grades; parenting that is permissive or authoritarian has a negative effect on grades (Dornbusch et al, 1987). Permissive parenting can be motivated by either a permissive, liberal orientation or one that is neglectful and disengaged. The neglectful style has the most negative effects on grades, attitudes towards school, and ability (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991). Inconsistency in parenting style exerts the most detrimental effects on academic performance (Steinberg, Brown, Cazmarek, Cider, & Lazarro, n.d.). Parents with more education are more likely to be authoritative and less likely to be permissive or authoritarian. Single mothers score higher on permissive parenting than those in two-parent families and stepparents are more likely to be permissive or authoritarian than parents in two-parent families (Dornbusch et al, 1987). Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, and Fraleigh ( 1987) found

that parents with authoritative parenting styles have children who receive

higher grades

Moreover, studies demonstrated that the mothers' speech is closely related to children's vocabulary development. Some studies were based on observing children at home to enquire about family dynamics that are linked to their vocabulary development. Vocabulary development was found to be associated with later academic performance.

One study, in which researchers observed mother-child interactions every month for the first two years of children's lives, concluded that the elaboration of mothers' language interactions with their young children was strongly differentiated by social class (Hart and Risley, 1995).

As single parenting involves the mothers moving from richer to poorer communities after marital break ups, the family is disconnected with the community and its resources. Changing schools indicates school failure (Teachman, Paasch, and Carver, 1996).

Cavanagh argued that small proportion of single-father families were found in the data collected in all countries. Children living in single-father families, display more behavioural and academic problems than those in either single-mother or step-families. Walker and Woods (1976) speculated that fathers in general do not much involved in childcare but they do help in other tasks, give emotional support and discipline and act as a role model for the children (Hetherington, 1981). A minority of children receive child support payments which is a small amount from their non-custodial fathers (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991). Non-custodial fathers involve less time with their children as compared to married fathers. This include fathers of children born out of wedlock and divorced fathers whose involvement with their children decreases with time (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991; Edin and Kefalas, 2005). Fatherless households were assumed to be incomplete and the primary cause of delinquency, poor academic achievement, school drop-outs, and negative relationships with the parents, low self-esteem, sexual promiscuity and welfare dependence.

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