Children from single‐parent households have an increased risk for dropping out of school, becoming teen parents, and face barriers to success in the workforce. Although many children from single parent homes fare well, others face challenges in their educational, occupational, and social well‐being.
In 2012, according to the Obama administration’s Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 27% of children aged 0 to 17 years live in single-parent households.
The problems identified in 2012 were visible a decade or more earlier. As noted author Ann Coulter writes,
A 2004 New York Times Magazine article on welfare families by Jason DeParle said, "Mounds of social science, from the left and the right, leave little doubt that the children of single-parent families face heightened risks." Calling a single-parent family "a double dose of disadvantage," the Times article cited as "the definitive text" a book by sociologists Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur that concluded, back in 1994, "In our opinion, the evidence is quite clear: Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents' race or educational background."
Mounds of statistical evidence show that children raised in a single-parent home are more likely to abuse drugs, end up in jail, have lower educational achievement, have lower adult incomes, have poor health, and have nearly any other measurable demographic disadvantage.
The problem has been repeatedly quantified, by university researchers, and by agencies at the federal and state levels:
Controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and place of residence, the strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent. By 1996, 70 percent of inmates in state juvenile detention centers serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers. Seventy-two percent of juvenile murderers and 60 percent of rapists come from single-mother homes. Seventy percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents, and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers. Girls raised without fathers are more sexually promiscuous and more likely to end up divorced. A 1990 study by the Progressive Policy Institute showed that after controlling for single motherhood, the difference between black and white crime rates disappeared.
Questions about policy responses to this situation have also been raised many times. One obstacle to any policy action is that such action could have an unintended result of further reducing the nation’s already too-low birth rate. Far from a population explosion, like those seen in some third-world countries, the United States has a birth rate so low that if it drops further, serious economic repercussions would threaten.
But a still larger obstacle also blocks policy action regarding single parenthood: it is a societal phenomenon, not a governmental one, and so the most direct solutions are to be found among the organic institutions of society, not in legislation.
Governments are not free to change the laws of nature, including the law which says that even well-intentioned federal programs, perhaps especially well-intentioned ones, will yield a result in direct opposition to their stated purpose. Thus, any governmental program designed to strengthen families can only, and will inevitably, weaken them.
Society, if unimpeded by governmental regulation, is often capable of self-correction. Legislation, while well intended, is often ham-fisted and triggers unintended consequences - often, consequences which effect precisely those results which are opposite to the intended ones.