Lone Parents and Poverty
Over decades, it is evident that family structures have experienced a remarkable change, and they are still undergoing transient evolution. This phenomenon has been witnessed across Europe, as well as other parts of the world. However, it is worth noting that the massive changes in family structural characteristics have occurred at different timings, albeit with different reasons (European Commission, 2007). Of great consideration is lone parenthood which has been associated with a high risk of poverty. Lone parents are most likely to become poor due to various reasons. Evidence shows that the phenomenon of lone parenthood contributes to social exclusion in the society due to poverty. Rowlingson & Mckay (2014) remark that “lone parent families are poor families” (p. 32). This is one of the consequences of classism ideology. As a result, social exclusion has led to the failure of families to accomplish their core functions including child care and mentorship. In Europe, survey statistics show that 16.6 percent of lone parents are living in abject poverty compared to only 5.5 percent of the total European population. In total, there are 1.8 million lone parent families in the United Kingdom and 52 percent comprises of single mothers (European Commission, 2007). This implies that poverty among lone parent households is emerging as serious social and economic issue. European Commission (2007) observes that lone parent households are experiencing poverty and social exclusion, a situation if not addressed, may cause immense consequences including the transmission of poverty to upcoming generations within lone parent households. This implies that these poor children may grow to become socially excluded adults; thus increasing inequality in the society. Therefore, this research paper will provide a critical overview on lone parenthood and poverty.
Causes of Lone Parenthood
Despite the differences in the types of lone parents; single parent, windowed, divorced or separated, there are common causes of lone parenthood. It is reported that women account for the highest percentage of lone parents which is rated beyond 80% compared to lone fathers. This variation is attributable to a number of factors which influence family formation. For instance, women have been found to an increased risk of becoming single parents prior to partnership (Mc Kay, 2002). Ordinarily, females reach childbearing age as early as 16 years, a developmental stage when they cannot undertake family responsibilities. In most societies, marriages occur in twenties and thirties, long after girls become reproductive. This is the reason why most of the women bear children prior to marriage; thus becoming lone parents. On the other hand, cohabiting prior to marriage contributes to the risk of becoming a lone parent because cohabiting relationships do not necessarily lead to a successful marriage.
Separation and divorce are other paths to lone parenthood. Cohabiting parents have been found to have high rates of separation. However, divorce seems to be the second leading path to lone parenthood after single motherhood which has been rising rapidly in the past decades. Studies reveal that several factors are responsible for the rising divorce rates in the society which has increased lone parenthood. Of the main factors contributing to divorce, social class and poverty have been found to be some of the leading causes of divorce. For instance, it is reported that couple who come different social classes are likely to divorce. On the other hand, couples who come from poor economic backgrounds experience a high risk of divorce, and this increases poverty among lone parents (Mc Kay, 2002).
Factors Contributing to Poverty
From an analytical perspective, lone parenthood encompasses challenges in family formation and functioning. One of the most challenging issues faced by lone parent households is economic stability. In the ordinary European society, men took the responsibility of providing for their households. However, the society has undergone transient social and economic transformation. In the current society, both couples share the responsibility of providing financial support to their families, albeit other family responsibilities. Therefore, lone parenthood transfers financial responsibilities to one parent. This phenomenon is what contributes to poverty among lone parent households because most parents are not able to meet all the financial needs of their families. However, there are key determinants of poverty among lone parent households including low educational attainment and labour market participation.
Low educational attainment has always been associated with increased risk of poverty. However, educational disadvantage among lone parents varies significantly depending on the route into lone parenthood. It is estimated that about half of lone parents under the age of 35 possess certificate level education. Moreover, surveys within the European Union indicate that most lone mothers in UK, the Netherlands and Ireland have first levels of education compared to married mothers. It is also reported that lone mothers are more likely to leave the educational system prior to attaining a university degree compared to married mothers (European Commission, 2007). Therefore, low educational attainment increases the risk poverty.
Participation in the labour market is the second factor influencing the risk of poverty among lone parents. It is reported that one in every four lone parents in the UK is not in any paid employment (PSE, 2014). Among women, evidence shows that lone mothers exhibit a higher rate of unemployment than married mothers (European Commission, 2007). On the other hand, most lone parents, especially those who have low educational attainment are in low-paying employment. In most cases, lone parents are deactivated from the labour market, and this explains why they are depended on welfare provision. Moreover, lack of access to affordable childcare compels lone parents to seek part-time jobs which do not generate sufficient income for their families. Economic deprivation among lone parents can be evidenced by their over-representation in housing. For instance, lone parents in Europe have been found to be over-represented among tenants (European Commission, 2007).