History of Single Parenthood and the Economic Implication of Being a Single Parent

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In today’s society, single mothers are not viewed as a marginal group although they still face many challenges as they try to fit in the society. They still face some injustices, for instance, double discrimination in the labor market and family policy. As women, the single mothers are discriminated against in the labor market were men are preferred. They are not given equal job opportunities as men and are also discriminated against in terms of salaries and wages.

Men receive a bigger amount of salary for the same work done by women in many organizations. In terms of family policies, married parents are favored and receive better treatment than the unmarried parents. This kind of discrimination does not fit in the society we have today where the literacy levels have gone up and almost everyone knows what is right and wrong.

Traditionally, being a single parent was viewed as a negative cultural value. Single mothers would find it difficult to live in the society because the economic situation was not viable for them. Marriage was viewed as the only accepted norm by the entire society and those who didn’t meet this were seen as outcast in the community.

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Therefore, singe mothers were literary denied equal chances as those given to married parents. Even today, marriage is viewed as a norm in family policy and single parents continue to suffer in the hands of the society.

However, today the society is in the process of individualization which is changing the living standards of women (both single and married). Individualization in this sense refers to the process of setting people free from the traditional bonds both culturally and socially. In this process, women are affected more than men because some of the negative views imposed against them subsidizes with individualization.

Some women end up being single mothers out of will while others are forced by circumstances. With the increase in literacy levels many women consider marriage as a stressful situation and would rather raise their children alone than rely on a man to do so. They have become independent and can earn almost the same amount of money as men. Some women are more aggressive than men and have become the social changers of the society today.

They can make their own decision and have the discretion to choose when to marry, when to get children and so forth. This paper looks at the social problem of single women in social and economic perspective. In doing so it will look at the history of single parenthood, the traditional and modern perception of single mothers, causes of single parenthood and the economic implication of being a single parent.

It will give an in-depth analysis of the family policy and division of labor in relation to single mothers. It will also give summary of the psychological stress that a child goes through as a result of being brought up by a single, especially if the single hood is as a result of divorce.

The History of Single Women

In the evolutionary past, it was very hard for a woman to raise children single handedly. Similarly, during the era of the written history single parenthood was not seen as a form of living and was only chosen by women who were not lucky in getting a suitable partner; it was a last resort.

Furthermore, the single parents faced a lot of economic difficulties, not to mention, the disadvantages they were subjected to as a result of giving birth outside the wedlock. They were disadvantaged from accessing some legal opportunities, for instance, they would not inherit property and were stigmatized and detested.

Majority of women from the English communities (about 95%) gave birth in marriage, this shows that the number of women who gave birth outside marriage was very small and most of them were victims of unintended pregnancy and their inability to demand marriage from their parents, since it was a norm for the father to choose the marriage partner for their daughters (South & Lloyd, 1992).

In such an environment, women raised their children single-handedly because of lack of a better alternative. Getting pregnant out-of-wedlock was seen as a deviant behavior and such women would be punished for their immorality.

Unmarried mothers were prosecuted and would face legal sanctions. However, with the increasing rates of illegitimacy, legal enforcement was neglected and only about 30% of the unmarried pregnant women were prosecuted compared to 75% who were normally prosecuted before. Those who were excused from prosecution were done so under the view that they would soon get married when conditions became favorable. This shows that marriage was constrained by the economic struggles most people had to go through.

The economic and social constraints faced by young women in the ancient times are very different from what the modern woman goes through. Today, there are many campaigns on the use of birth controls implying that it is very unlikely for a woman to become pregnant due to delayed marriage as was the case earlier on. However, economic conditions continue to deteriorate and are affecting the marriage market and the rise in the ratio of single parenthood.

This phenomenon can be understood clearly by analyzing the marriage difficulties faced by African American women. According to Wilson (1997), the declining job opportunities for African American men in the United States are increasing the number of single mothers. He observes that many African American men have been forced to work in poorly paid jobs that cannot support a family.

This means that a large number of the African American have been disqualified from marriage in economic sense. The scarcity of men for marriage has also been attributed to other factors which include but not limited to high mortality rate, low sex ratios at birth, and high rates of imprisonment among the black men. In 1980, there were approximately 50 marriageable men (between the ages of 20-24 years) to 100 hundred marriageable women.

“The same economic ideologies therefore help explain why single parenthood was common among 20th-century African Americans as well as 16th century farmers in England. A similar reason applies to poor 20th-century European Americans also. In some economically depressed (White) neighborhoods, including the lower end of South Boston the majority of children are born outside marriage” (Wilson, 1997).


In this process women benefit in two fold; in the labor market and family policy. First, in the process of individualization the worker is separated from the family ties, kinship, and neighborhood and is viewed as a separate individual. Unlike before, today’s labor market searches for individuals who are ready and willing to work, flexible and mobile, and family relations is not considered.

Secondly, women benefit from reduced discrimination related to gender and family relations. With individualization, women are no longer expected to define themselves in respect to their family status or relations.

It is worth noting that women value their personal relationships more than men do and they are always ready to end such relationships if they do not meet their needs and / or expectations. However, this process does not put into consideration the difficulties that these single women are likely to encounter in supporting their families due to poverty (South & Lloyd, 1992). The will have to find other strategies to improve living standard and work conditions for their families.

Even though individualization has played a very critical role in breaking most of the traditional ties, the society has left individuals on their own and they have to find solutions to their own problems. For women to fit in such a kind of society, they have to portray a high level of flexibility because men still dominate in the labor market.

The process of individualization goes together with direct legal discrimination based on marital status. Even though it is not portrayed clearly women are still discriminated against equal opportunities in the legal sense. However, by analyzing the social reality and the legal system this does not seem to be the time to address the issue of equal recognition in the different forms of the family.

The main impediment to equal recognition is the standard employment relationship which is biased to favor the male on one hand and on the other is the standard division of labor which is still based on stereotypes and feminism (Quinlan, 2003).

Division of Labor

Traditionally specialization of labour was based on marriage and this is still observed in the current set up in our society. Male employment was seen as a legal norm according to the labor market policy and the social norm. It was seen as a full-time and a long-term contract that was enough to provide the family income and more to that the male worker was also given other payments including social insurance to back up his wages so as to be able to provide for the family even in times of dire need.

The amount of such payments was based on the previous income of the male worker. The female worker was not provided with such payments because she was assumed to have fewer responsibilities than the man had. It was believed that the role of a man was to make sure his family was taken care of and also to show the commitment as a husband.

The idea of traditional marriage and standard employment relationship are not given equal weight in the modern society as they used to be. The labor market is trying to do away with the issue of traditional marriage although this is more said than done (Waite & Gallagher, 2000).

Nowadays many changes in the current family set up is mostly triggered by women. Many women are advocating for fewer children while their marriage and remarriage rate are declining and the divorce rate has risen significantly. These changes show how women have made a step to be independent rather than being dependant to their husbands. They are no longer under the perspective that they have to look upon men for their economic life.

In addition, feminist demand is working in their favor in enacting pressure for social change in policy. However, “the rising social consciousness of single women tentatively constricts a new context of normality, which within the process of societal communication can no longer be dismissed” (McLanahan & Booth, 1988).

Employment as a Form of Economic Security

Some women become single not because they desire to be so while others are single out of their own will. At one time some women choose to remain single and take the role of husband and wife.

The aptitude to maintain their own form of living is linked to their ability and willingness to shape their personal development, personal relationships, and to make friends. This also depends on their ability to secure employment so that they are able to provide for their economic needs. Men and women have different views regarding employment and families and this affects the single women.

As we all know, employment is a form of financial security and this means more to a single woman than it does to a married one. Through research, it has been found that women who loss their job during marriage find it hard to attain financial security from employment after they have separated from their spouse (McLanahan & Booth, 1988).

Those who are successful in doing so go through a lot of both physical and psychological stress before they are able to acquire continuous employment.

More often than not, most of these women had to make a lot of compromises between their work and family during their early life and they have to deal with the consequences of such actions after divorce. This results to tend to affect economic sense and remain a permanent an agony to the entire society due to the fact that much is spent on bringing up the children.

Many people believe that marriage in itself is a form of economic security; however, this is not always the case because there are times when marriage acts as an obstacle towards the attainment of that security. Women might also be affected if they choose to follow the traditional ways of life.

In some circumstances, many single women are forced to decline from a career in order to take care of their family members. The welfare system is supposed to provide these services but instead it has left them in the hands of individuals who later become the client of the system because they are not able to meet their own needs (Quinlan, 2003).

Up until now, the standard employment relationship and marriage are still focused upon by the social and family policy which assumes that considerable functions of the family are executed by the marital family and they pay no attention to the role played by single parents in caring for the family. As if this is not bad enough, a married couple with no children benefits more from the social policies than the single woman who have children to care for.

These policies only strengthen the traditional discrimination of the division of labor rather than fight against it. They do not recognize single parenthood as a form of living but instead they obstruct social integration (McLanahan & Booth, 1988).

Family Law

The family law fights against discrimination based on gender and marital status and advocates for equal distribution of property and fair recompense. Child maintenance is given high ranking in the implementation of international standards and marital property is also equally distributed.

However it is still hard to convert what is said into practical. Many people assume that marriage in itself guarantees economic security for the woman even after divorce although this seems to be metaphor that is yet to be proved. It is just an illusion that has never occurred in reality.

According to the social Insurance law in Germany, it is only widows who benefit from the marriage promises. Widows who are left with children to care for or who are over the age of 45 years are given an abundant pension which assures them of an economic security.

It is assumed that widows who have minor children have a 48% employment rate compared to divorced women or unmarried women who have an employment rate of 80%. But in this case the group that may suffer a lot is the children incase the bread winner die. There is no law on the ground that identifies how a single parent is supposed to feed the children t (Vogel & Willenbacher, 1993).

The idea of marriage being a driving force of economic security becomes more apparent incase of divorced women. According to the social security policy in Germany, a divorced woman is entailed to receive only 50% of joint assets while a widow receives 60% the husband’s pension and still retains her own if she is in the minor income group.

Divorced and never married mothers are not only disregarded in terms of the widow’s pension, but also the time they may have taken out of the employment to acquire pension assets is not taken into consideration.

In addition, they may have already incurred other costs in bringing up the children that is not considered. Single mothers normally go through a lot of struggles trying to balance between their career work and family lives and this reduces their chances of having a successful career. This is because they may not be able to work overtime, to stay late at work or even attending business conferences or training sections. This is a problem due to lack of adequate security which leads to low pension.

The women who benefit most are the married women with no children since they are able to devote most of their time to their careers. These are the women who have no difficulties working overtime, attending business meetings or trainings (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). Under this they acquire much security and thus raising their pension.

Before 1974 only those women who were divorced or single were exempted from tax. The windowed were given the same priority as married couples on tax bonus but the single women were receiving some tax incentives on top. Due to the continuing decline in the level of savings from the tax free area, compared to the income-splitting system, all single mothers (including widows) started to receive equal treatment from 1974.

Presently, marital status is still considered in the transfer payment system which awards the highest benefits to married couples whether they have children or not. A married person earning more than DM 240,000 p.a is entitled to receive a maximum benefit of about DM 23, 000 whereas a single mother with one child who earns more than DM30, 000 p.a receive a payment transfer of approximately DM2.700.

However, with the present adjustment made by the Federal Constitutional Court, single mothers and low income earners may benefit more since the minimum wage has been exempted from taxes. With the current benefits given to children, discrimination against single mothers seems to have declined although it has not disappeared completely. Before single mothers never enjoyed these benefit of tax incentives because their monthly income was relatively low.

They started to receive aids in 1974 when the federal government introduced direct child payments. However, the amount of benefits paid to the children is not the same and differs with the number of children; the first child receives fewer benefits than the second and the third child receives a higher amount of benefits than the second child. This is because it is assumed that the cost of bringing children increases significantly as the number of children increases (Voegeli & Willenbacher, 1993).

In the current set up the single mother do not enjoy tax benefit like their marriage counter part which is wrong because they also have children who will be tax contributor.

This discourages many women with some opting to take the traditional role of a woman. However, few women are accepting this role since this is not a good incentives and the social policy continues to uphold the traditional perspective to division of labor based on the marriage which has adverse effects especially if a couple divorces since this does not only affect the woman but the entire society.

The single mothers who are categorized as low income earner group are paid a leave allowances of about DM 600 each month to assist them bring up their children. However, even in scheme, the single mothers face some sort of discrimination in that they only use these payments under one condition; during the parental leave, they are expected to work part time or stop working at all. Many single mothers are not able to fulfill this condition because they can only comply with it if the welfare agrees to take care of them.

It is only married mothers who are able to work part time because they are assured of economic security unlike the single mothers who do not have anyone to look up to; they have to choose between their families and full-time employment. if the opt to become permanent employee they forego raising of children and if they choose they choose to stay hope to care for their children they become dependant of the welfare set up which will have negative effects in their family life.

Single mothers with children below three years of age can opt to remain unemployee and claim compensation from welfare without any hesitation. A single mother with one child receives a monthly benefit of DM1, 100 and if there are two children the benefit changes to DM 1,500 and the figure changes as the number of children increase. Furthermore, they are entitled to a 100% transfer payment in all incomes except the child raising benefits.

More to that, single mothers are allowed to work part-time in order to supplement their incomes once the benefits starts to decline and they can also apply for more allowances in terms of clothing and accommodation through the welfare payments agency. The review on transfer payment in Germany has shown that the society assist the married couple more than the single mothers and it is clear that these single mothers need more help than the married ones.

Psychological Stress of Single Parenthood

It is assumed that the psychological stress that a child is exposed to during his early years of development influences his sexual psychology in adulthood and also his behavior; this stress alters brain development. One example of psychological stress is poverty, especially in the modern society.

Through research it has been found that childhood stress not only interferes with the brain structures but also modifies the sexual psychology in both male and female. In this sense, marriage is considerably affected by the availability of suitable partners.

This is because men who have been brought up by poor families are less likely to provide for their families and women are less likely to require emotional security and economic security that is normally guaranteed under a marriage contract and so single parenthood is interrelated with low levels of income within a country (McLanahan, 1992).

It is worth noting that poverty is not the only psychological stress that a child goes through during his development. If psychological stress such as poverty has been proved to affect the sexual and reproductive behavior of the child when he becomes an adult then other sources of stress would have similar consequences on the child.

A common type of stress that affects children as they grow up is divorce. Parental divorce is common in the developed nations such as the United States than in low income nations such as Africa; this is not because people in low income nations enjoy or are able to stay in stable marriages but because they are less likely to wed in the first place (McLanahan, 1992).

Children from divorced parents are not only subjected to a change in their standard of living, but also are detached from the love they had known since they were born. It is good to note that although children from divorced family may experience a decline in their standards of living, they still remain better off than children brought up by single mothers since birth.

However, these children will be go through more psychological stress than the single mothers children because they will have to adopt a new environment which may affect the development of their sexual behavior.

According to Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1996), most American children who go through a bitterly-fought parental divorce are likely to suffer permanent problems in their sexual relationships. This view is supported by Wallerstein (1998) findings which are as follows;

More than 50% females from divorced families are likely to get pregnant at their teenage years
About 48% are likely to divorce once they marry
Some may delay their marriages because of lack of self-confidence and trust while others may have highly impulsive marriages (especially women). About 25% of children from divorced families many never marry because of lack of trust in intimate relationships
Most of these children suffer from emotional problems such as depression and lack of concentration in schools more than other children

By looking at these findings, it is clear that children from divorced parents have a 20% probability of having a stable marriage compared to 40% for the general population. Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1996) further found that adult from divorced parents and who were able to have a stable marriage were never happy with their marriages.

They continue to suffer from depression and low expectations with some losing hope and are never contented with what they get. When a child is brought up in an unhappy marriage he lives with the perception that marriage is not a happy thing.

Causes of Increased Number of Single Mothers

Poverty affects reproductive behavior by altering the brain development and the effects it imposes on marital opportunities. Historically, poverty was believed to influence single parenthood by limiting marital opportunities due to the scarcity of economically qualified men. In the present society, the number of males who are unemployed is high and the world is full of depressed economic conditions, especially in nations with high ratios of non-marital births.

However, economic determinants are not the only factor that explains the increasing ratios of single parenthood; there are other social factors which include sexual liberation. “Thus, the steady rise in single parenthood ratios in many Europeans countries throughout much of the 19th century is attributed to increasing sexual liberation associated with industrialization of the economy and urbanization of the population” (Shorter, 1975:25).

The increase in the number of single parent during the 19th century industrialization period may be understood clearly by examining statistics from different countries such as France which shows that single parenthood increased from 5% to 10% in one year. The largest increase in the number of single parents is believed to have occurred in Paris and Bordeaux because of an increase in the illegitimacy ratios which surged above 30%.

Other cities in the European countries reported a similar increase in the number of single parents and this was attributed to the increase in the number of women who migrated to urban cities in search for employment following the industrial revolution. According to the sexual liberation argument, urbanization brought large numbers of lustful young men and women together in an environment where the watchful eyes of relatives and other traditional constraints on sexual behavior no longer mattered.

They converted newfound sexual opportunity into sexual expression outside marriage thereby boosting illegitimate births (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). The increase in the number of single parents is not genuinely explained by the hypothesis of sexual liberation. This hypothesis may shift attention from the real drivers of the change of which economic aspects appear to take precedence

Universal Family Policy

Today, the family is defined in many forms and it would be difficult to create new policies to cater for the different forms of the family. A universal policy would play a big role in incorporating all the different forms of the family and ensure that equal opportunities are provided.

The aim of this kind of a policy should be to deal with the costs involved in raising children. This is a form of future investment to the family. There should be equal distributions of opportunities for all children irrespective of where they come from family policies should reflect on individual performance in the society.

Such policy should not be biased towards the traditional perspective of marriage as the only family unit but rather it has to respect individual decisions in creating a family form of his choice.

The primary focus of the family policy should be the respective individual but not the family where he comes from. Scandinavian countries have been able to restructure their family policies without leaving out any form of family in the society (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). The most recent example of a family policy is the rule of individual principle that was introduced into Danish law.

In restructuring the family policy, the system of transfer payments and social infrastructure have to be looked into. Through research, it has been concluded that children from divorced families perform poorly both in school and in the labor market.

This has been attributed to fact that there is lack of a social infrastructure and employment opportunities for the divorced mothers which affects the family’s economic condition and the results is poor performance on the side of the children.

Many scholars argue that children from employed single mothers end up being successful at their later years than children from single mothers who are not working.

If this is true, then the family policy should aim at the provision of more employment opportunities for the single mothers than in the provision of transfer payments. Others argue that children from employed single mothers who are raising only one child are more successful than children from more than two children families (Voegeli & Willenbacher, 1993).

Policies that dishearten married women from participating in the work force should be abolished because it has been proved that a woman who is employed during her married life is in a better position to maintain her living standards even after divorce than a woman who was unemployed before divorce.

An unbiased family policy should have the following elements:

A transfer payment system that takes into consideration the costs of bringing up children irrespective of the form of the family
A system that recognizes the bringing up of children as a material contribution for old-age pensions
A system that recognizes parental leave with no conditions attached to it that single mothers can rely on without having to seek for assistance from the welfare agencies
A system that integrate single mothers into the labor market and making them eligible for training schemes which are available to the unemployed
A system that establishes health care facilities those are accessible and affordable
An education system that offers both secondary and tertiary education that is accessible by all children regardless of the family income

In the presence of such a universal family policy, then we expect to have an egalitarian society with equal employment opportunities. Unemployment level can decrease because women will join the work force and thus no devolution of their qualifications. A lot of money that is used on welfare and in subsidizing marriage would be saved for other constructive services.

Welfare reform Bill

On August 22, 1996, a welfare reform bill called “the personal responsibility and work opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996” was signed into law by President Clinton. This law has changed the administration of financial assistance by the government. It has also changed the administration of federal funding from being an open-ended entitlement to grant allocations.

With the new bill, time limits are set on entitlement and the welfare assistance given in the form of cash. The welfare recipients are now required to engage themselves in job activities including but not limited to participation in community service, work experience, and vocational training. This bill supports children from all forms of families.


In the present society, single mothers constitute a very big percentage of all the mothers. There has been an increasing rate of single parenthood than in the ancient times. Many scholars argue that single parenthood is attributed to poverty and inefficiencies in the social systems. Being a single mother in the traditional society was not only seen as a deviant behavior but it also attracted some legal sanctions. However, with the growth in industrialization this view has been discarded as single parenthood has become a form of living.

Some mothers become single out of divorce or death of a spouse. It does not mean they enjoy this state of being single but they have to coupe with it. Most of them go through both psychological and physical stress while trying to come in terms with their predicament. However, these mothers are advantaged in terms of the family policy than the mothers who have never married.

They are given a portion of their husband’s assets, which can boost their economic security and start the new form of living. Just like in the historic times, marriage is still considered as the best form of living in the present society.

There is a lot of discrimination in the labor market and family policy based on marital status. Discrimination in the labor market is also based on gender, where the man is given more opportunities than a woman and in some cases men earn more than women for the same work. A married woman is better placed to acquire employment than a single mother.

Men and women have different views regarding employment and families and this affects the single women. As we all know, employment is a form of financial security and this means more to a single woman than it does to a married one. Denying a single woman a chance to join the work force does not only affect her economic security but also the future life of the child.

It has been found that children brought up in poverty have limited chances of being successful in life and may end up living in poverty for the rest of their lives. It also affects their sexual behavior. Poverty affects reproductive behavior by altering the brain development and the effects it imposes on marital opportunities. Research has shown that children from employed single mothers end up being successful at their later years than children from single mothers who are not working.

To address the difficulties encountered by single mothers, there is need to develop a universal policy that caters for all the forms of family available in the society today. With such a policy we expect to have an egalitarian society with equal employment opportunities.

Reference List

McLanahan, S. (1992). Intergenerational Consequences of Divorce: The United States Perspective in Weitzman and Maclean (Eds). Economic Consequences of Divorce, Oxford, p.285.

McLanahan, S., & Booth, K. (1988). Mother-Only Families: Problems, Reproduction, Politics, Discussion Paper No. 855- 7, Institute of Research on Poverty. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

Quinlan, R. J. (2003). Father Absence, Parental Care, and Female Reproductive Development. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, p.376-390.

Shorter, E. (1975). Illegitimacy, sexual revolution, and social change in modern Europe. In T. K. Rub and R. I. Rotberg, (Eds.). The family in history: Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 48-85). New York: Harper Torchbooks.

South, S. J., & Lloyd, K. M. (1992). Marriage Opportunity and Family Formation: Further Implications of Imbalanced Sex Ratios. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45, 440-451

Voegeli, W., & Willenbacher (1993). Children’s Rights and Social Placement. International Journal of Law and the Family, Vol.7, p.1088.

Waite, L. J., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The Case for Marriage. New York: Doubleday.

Wallerstein, J. S. (1998). Children of Divorce: A Society In Search Of Policy. In M. A. Mason, A. Skolnick, And S. D. Sugarman, (Eds.), All Our Families: New Policies for a New Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wallerstein, J. S., & Blakeslee, S. (1996). Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children A Decade after Divorce. New York: Mariner

Wilson, W. J. (1997). When Work Disappears: The World Of The New Urban Poor. New York: Vintage.

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