The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States Since 1960.

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Ellwood, David T.
Jencks, Christopher.
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This paper examines the ways in which families with children have changed over the course of the twentieth century in the United States and the rise of single-parent families. It begins with a discussion of the negative effects of single parenthood and findings from research on the economic and developmental disadvantages of children raised in single parent families. Factors that have influenced the prevalence of single parenthood are explored and include the birth control pill and legalized abortion that have weakened the link between marriage and childbearing, changing sexual mores that made it more acceptable for unmarried couples to engage in sexual activity and live together, and changing gender roles that have influenced maternal employment. Evidence is also cited that indicate deteriorating job opportunities for men modestly reduce marriage and increase single parenthood. The paper hypothesizes that women's economic opportunities now play a more important role in the timing of motherhood than they did a generation ago, and that growing acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation, combined with greater control over the timing of births, has made family formation less sensitive to the hormonal influences that had traditionally encouraged women to marry early. The following recommendations are made for helping to reduce the prevalence of single parent families: improving job opportunities for less skilled men, improving job opportunities for less skilled women, and supports for two-parent families, such as refundable tax credits, childcare subsidies, and health insurance subsidies. 51 references.

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