19 February 2008

The Family: America's Smallest School ~ Some findings concerning family structure in the U.S.

A recent report written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley and published by the Educational Testing Service evaluates a number of key factors influencing the well-being of students in America. Their findings are particularly relevant to conversations occurring across the country today concerning the relationship between parenting alone and poverty, and the affect of these aspects of family and home life on child well-being and success in school and through life.

The Barton and Coley discussion is particularly helpful in placing rates of single-parenting in a cross-city, cross-national, and historical context.

The following discussion is drawn from pages 10-13 of the report: The Family: America’s Smallest School 2007. Princeton NJ: ETS.

Number of Parents in the Home

What is the trend for children living in two-parent families in the United States? In the nation as a whole in 2004, 68 percent of children were living with both parents, down from 77 percent in 1980. There were substantial declines among the White, Black, and Hispanic populations of children with two parents in the home over that period. The lowest percentage of children living with two parents was among Black children — just 42 percent in 1980, dropping to 35 percent in 2004. Thus, the majority of Black children live in single-parent homes.

The variation among the states in the percentage of single-parent families is considerable, The low is 17 percent in Utah, while South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana have percentages
of 40 or higher.

There is also marked variation between large cities. San Diego and Austin had the lowest percentages of children in one-parent families, although about one-third of families fall into this category. Atlanta and Cleveland had the highest percentages of single-parent families, with about two-thirds of the cities’ families falling into this category.

International comparisons are also available, although there are variations in the years for which data are available. In comparison with nine other countries where data were available, the United States had the highest percentage of one-parent families (28 percent) and Japan the lowest (8 percent). There were substantial increases in all countries in this statistic for the time periods available. In addition, for most of the countries included in this comparison, about one-fifth of families with children were single-parent families. It is clear that the phenomenon of a rising rate of children living with one parent is by no means confined to the United States.

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