UK Study: Lack of economic support hinders cognitive abilities of children of single mothers

November 20, 2019

Over the last 60 years, the percentage of children in the United Kingdom living in homes headed by a single mother has risen steadily. A new study examined how the impact of single motherhood on children's verbal cognitive abilities has changed and how the age of children when their parents separate affects those abilities. The study concluded that children who lived with a single mother before age 11 had lower verbal cognitive ability even after considering mothers' education and their age at the time of the child's birth.

The study was done by researchers at the University of Bristol, Universidad de Alcalá, and the University of Bath. It is published in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

"Our study shows that almost all of the relationships between single motherhood and negative consequences for children's cognitive attainment can be explained by families' reduced economic circumstances," explains Susan Harkness, professor of public policy at the University of Bristol, who led the study. "Although single motherhood has become much more common in the U.K., deficits associated with parenting--as opposed to reduced economic circumstances--have all but disappeared over the last 40 years."

Researchers used data from three large, nationally representative studies of British children born in 1958, 1970, and 2000; each study included more than 10,000 children and measured children's verbal ability on standardized tests at age 10 (1970 study) or 11 (1958 and 2000 studies). The studies also collected information on economic and family characteristics, as well as family members' health and well-being.

Prior studies, which used data from children born in the 1940s to the 1970s, compared children of single mothers with children in families that are otherwise similar but not headed by a single mother, so the indirect effect of single motherhood on children's outcomes is not well understood. In this study, researchers sought to determine how the family environment is affected by single motherhood, specifically, to what extent the economic and parenting resources of children in single- and two-parent families differ. They then assessed how children in single-mother families might have done had their parents not separated, and how economic resources and differences in parenting affected children's attainment.

The study examined how being born to a single mother, having parents separate after birth but before age 7, and having parents separate between ages 7 and 11 affected children's verbal ability at age 11. It also assessed how single motherhood affected economic resources and parenting, and the impact that this in turn had on children's verbal ability. Children's cognitive ability is strongly related to a range of later life outcomes, including the likelihood of dropping out of school, earnings, occupational attainment, crime, substance abuse, and mental health.

The study found that:"Overall, our findings suggest two policy responses in the U.K.: supporting the incomes of single-parent families, particularly those with very young children, and addressing the growing gap in attainment between all children whose parents have adverse economic characteristics, whether partnered or not," said Paul Gregg, professor of public policy at the University of Bath, who coauthored the study.
-end-
The study was supported by the United Kingdom Economic and Social Research Council.

Summarized from Child Development, The Rise in Single-Mother Families and Children's Cognitive Development: Evidence from Three British Birth Cohorts, by Harkness, S (University of Bristol), Salgado, MF (Universidad de Alcalá), and Gregg, P (University of Bath). Copyright 2019 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Society for Research in Child Development

Related Parenting Articles from Brightsurf:

Perfectionists may be more prone to helicopter parenting, study finds
The negative effects of over-parenting on children are well documented, but less is known about why certain people become helicopter parents.

The effects of smartphone use on parenting
Parents may worry that spending time on their smartphones has a negative impact on their relationships with their children.

Extended parenting helps young birds grow smarter
The current study analyzes social and life-history data from several thousand songbirds, including 127 corvids, the family that includes jays, crows, ravens, and magpies.

Education the key to equal parenting rights for same-sex couples
Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting.

Parenting elective lets physicians spend more time with their babies
A novel, four-week parenting rotation designed for pediatric residents has dramatically increased the amount of time resident parents can spend at home with their babies, according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Parenting stress may affect mother's and child's ability to tune in to each other
A study led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has revealed the effects of the stress of parenting in the brains of both mothers and their children.

Evolution from water to land led to better parenting
The evolution of aquatic creatures to start living on land made them into more attentive parents, says new research on frogs led by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

Keep calm and don't carry on when parenting teens
In a new study, University of Rochester psychologists find that mothers and fathers who are less capable of dampening down their anger are more likely to resort to harsh discipline aimed at their teens, and that fathers in particular were not as good at considering alternative explanations for their teens' behavior.

Most parents say hands-on, intensive parenting is best
Most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, regardless of education, income or race.

One in 4 parents not prepared for 'parenting hangovers' this holiday season
A quarter of parents of young children who drink alcohol on special occasions do not think about limiting how much they drink or whether they'll be able to take care of their child the next day, according to a new national poll.

Read More: Parenting News and Parenting Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.