What sort of impact does being in a single-parent family have on a child’s future social and economic success? To find out, Jamie Seabrook and William Avison undertook a study in which they followed 747 subjects in London, Ontario, over a period of 14 years.
At the outset, Seabrook and Avison anticipated that their results would more-or-less mirror trends observed in numerous U.S. studies, where the outcome for children of single parents was generally not very positive. But when the data from their initial set of interviews came in, the researchers saw that young children in single-parent families were doing almost as well as children in two-parent families. This led them to suspect that the ultimate picture in London, Ontario, might differ substantially from what had been observed in the U.S. studies.
The common consensus would seem to be that the level of household income or poverty is what drives outcomes for children – and this is what the U.S. studies had observed. Avison and Seabrook found, however, that income disparity wasn’t particularly disadvantaging children in poorer families in London, Ontario. What they did find was that the educational attainment of the mothers was highly comparable between the single mothers and the married mothers, and their data suggests that it was this educational attainment, and not family structure per se, that was driving the children’s outcomes for success.
In fact, contrary to expectations, Seabrook and Avison found that growing up in a “stable” two-parent family in London, Ontario, did not confer an advantage on these children relative to those growing up in a “stable” single-parent family or a family that transitioned from one parent to two parents.