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Would You Choose To Live In A Sole Parent Family?

Big News with Dave Crampton

Would You Choose To Live In A Sole Parent Family?

Most Members of Parliament were brought up by their mum and dad and it served them well. Most, if not all MP's who are raising kids are in households headed by both parents - by choice. None have chosen to bring up their kids alone. Some MP's who have never raised kids say that the two parent family is no longer the preferred family form in this country. Social Development Minister Steve Maharey says the two parent family is "not holding together all that well".

Compared to what? Sole parents, mum and her boyfriend, or nuclear families like they were fifty years ago?

Mr Maharey 's view of what a nuclear family is or how it functions is stuck in a 1950's time-warp - of a white European mum at home permanently attached to her apron strings looking after at least four kids, while her husband (whoever heard of "partner" back then) earns the family income working in his first and only job. Yet, of all married nuclear families raising children, the stay-at-home-mum is still the prevalent structure.

The main changes in how a two parent family earns its income fifty years later is that the mother is more likely to be working, and dad's current job is not likely to last until retirement. Parents also have more income, but fewer kids. Thats because of the 58 percent of all families that have two married parents, just under a third earn two incomes, just over a third bring in one income, and just under a third have one partner in full time work and the other in part time work. A minority even have mum at work and dad at home with the kids. Oh yeah, thanks to no-fault divorce, it is easier to split up, and has been since 1981.

But Mr Maharey doesn't want to prefer any type of family form, let alone families that have two parents. He says he knows of no social science that says a nuclear family is successful than other kinds ( but he probably won't say that again). He probably say that he knows of no social science that says that sole parent families are more successful than other kinds. He'd be right on that count - there isn't any!. Mr Maharey is of the opinion that if sole parent families, and children in those families, are not achieving as positive outcomes as other family forms it is not due to the lack of another parent - and it's not to do with family breakdown either.

It's to do with income levels and poverty. Now that's convenient. If you acknowledge that problems in sole families are to do with the family form then obviously you cannot say that sole parents, in general, are as good as other family forms. I'm sure some are better. If you say sole parents are disadvantaged due to family breakdown, you will have to acknowledge that family breakdown is not ideal, and therefore resultant sole parenting is not ideal. You would also have to acknowledge the associated social science that backs that up. If it is poverty that is the real issue, then it is easier to set policies to deal with it, because you don't have to deal with the problem of family breakdown or discussions on family form. That's why Mr Maharey wants to concentrate on how a family functions, as opposed to an " ideological debate on family form". Yet his view of how families function in terms of wellbeing is just as ideological.

After all, of those raising kids in this country, the sole parent family is the second most prevalent family form - and the poorest. About 30 percent of families are headed by a sole parent. Of single parents in 2001, nearly 82 percent were women and just over 21 percent of single parent households were as a result of divorce with around a further 20 percent separated from their spouse. The high ex-nuptual birth rate is reflected in over 34 percent of single parents households reporting they have never been married.

Mr Maharey and his ilk maintain that sole parents can call on support structures within their extended family. Yet 80 percent of them are supported, not by their partner or extended family, but by the Domestic Purposes Benefit to the tune of $2.3 billion. Of the 80 percent of Domestic Purporse Beneficiaries who have signed up for a personal development plan, fewer than 30 percent have committed themselves to an education or training programme to get them back to work after work testing for sole parents was removed earlier this year. Instead they are having more kids. So what's the point of these plans if it is not to keep them on the DPB for longer?

Of all families not classed as "nuclear families", nearly all have suffered either family breakdown or the sole parent has never had a stable relationship. Blended families also fit into this category, even though in many instances both partners are married to each other - as at least one partner has gone through a divorce or a separation. For more on family function and dysfuction, see

Yet perhaps the most preferable family is one that places fewer demands on parents and children. Sole parents and blended families are likely to place demands on children that other two parent families do not. Around a third of Maori and Pacific children, 25 percent of Asian children and 15 pecent of European children live in families without a parent in paid work. The United Nations and the Ministry of Social Development both say that is not ideal - yet Mr Maharey says sole parents are "doing OK".

Just as well as two parent families, in fact. Yet many sole parents are on benefits, not just because they are out of work, but because family breakdown, in many cases, has divorced them from the breadwinner they were living with. The rest never had a stable partner to start with.

***** ends *****

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