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Single Parenting and Children's Academic Achievement - Single Parent
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Single Parenting and Children's Academic Achievement
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Although growing up in a single-parent family is frequently viewed as a risk factor for a child, single-parent families are now fairly common. Of children born since 1984, more than 60% will spend an average of 5 years of their childhood in a single-parent family [3; 6; 13]. Moreover, 30% of all children in the United States spend their entire lives with single parents [6]. Many people have questions about the influence of single-parent families on a child's academic achievement and the ways single parents can help their children succeed in school.

Research on Single Parenting and Academic Achievement

Research on single-parent families has changed over the years. During different periods, research in the area has followed one of two models: the Family Deficit Model or the Risk and Protective Factor Model.

Family Deficit Model. Dating back to the 1970s, the Family Deficit Model views the nuclear or two-parent family as the ideal family structure. According to this model, single-parent families have a negative impact on children simply because they do not have a nuclear family structure [7; 13]. Research using the Family Deficit Model begins with the assumption that single parenting is bad for children, and the results of these studies typically support this assumption. Indeed, some studies using the Family Deficit Model minimize or overlook the influence economics and other background factors have on academic achievement rather than alter this research model [7; 13].

Risk and Protective Factor Model. Developed in the early 1990s, the Risk and Protective Factor Model does not regard single-parent families as irregular [12; 13] because the foundation for the model is that all families have both strengths and weaknesses [7]. Rather than view single parenting as the cause of negative outcomes for children in these families, the Risk and Protective Factor Model describes family structure as one of many risk factors. Risk factors are either background characteristics or life events that may have a negative impact on child development. Protective factors are characteristics and events that positively influence children and help limit the impact of risk factors [12; 13]. Essentially, risk factors are the weaknesses and protective factors are the strengths of any given family. According to this model, single parenting can be both a risk factor and a protective factor for children in this type of family.

How Do Risk and Protective Factors Work Together?

Personality, availability of social supports, and family cohesion are often identified as categories of factors that can impact a child positively or negatively. Researchers define personality factors as internal characteristics found in every child, including the child's intellectual ability and approach to learning, attitude and disposition, self-esteem, and impulse control. Social support availability factors are whether or not the child has advocates at home, at school, and elsewhere in the community. Family cohesion includes family structure and background characteristics such as the parent's occupation, family income, parent education, parental mental illness, parenting style, race and ethnicity, and family size. Family cohesion factors also include life events such as divorce, remarriage, death, and other changes that can influence child development [11; 13] .

Elements of each of the three categories can serve as either risk or protective factors. For instance, researchers regard family size as a risk factor when there are four or more children, close in age, within the same household, but a protective factor in families with fewer than four children or when children are spaced 3 or more years apart. Furthermore, risk is cumulative [12], meaning that children who have a combination of risk factors such as poverty, many siblings close in age, and a single parent are at greater risk of poor academic performance and other negative child development outcomes than children from single-parent homes with higher incomes and fewer siblings. The more risk factors children have, the more likely they will experience negative outcomes as a result.

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This article was contributed by:
National Parent Information Network
The National Parent Information Network (NPIN) is a project of the ERIC system, which is administered by the National Library of Education in the U.S. Department of Education. NPIN is designed and maintained by two ERIC clearinghouses: the ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City; and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All other ERIC system components are also contributors and participants. (For more information about the ERIC system, visit the ERIC systemwide Web site maintained by ACCESS ERIC.)

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