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The New Face of Single and Custodial Father Households

The single and custodial father household has changed in many ways over the past 30 years.

We, the single and custodial fathers, are growing in number and, although still a minority, are a definite part of the single-parenting community.

While the number of traditional two-parent families has remained relatively unchanged since 1970, the single parent population has grown at a rate of 207 percent.

Within the single-parent population, the population of single-mother households has grown 188 percent, while single-father households have grown an amazing 373 percent.

What we have come to view as the “traditional” dual parent household has experienced little change over the past 30 years. The number of dual-parent households with children under the age of 18 actually has decreased 0.0179 percent since 1970, while single parent households have increased more than 200 percent.

Several recent publications have discussed the causality behind these changes, but I would suggest that none has addressed the totality of the problem or the true reasoning behind the changes in family demography.

Since 1970 the single-fatherheaded household has changed radically. Census data suggest that the single father household increased 223 percent between 1970 and 1995.

While many authors have provided alternative theories as to why this change has taken place, I would suggest that we have little information as to the causes.

While single-mother families are clearly the majority, single-father households are growing at a much greater rate, with the most notable increases occurring during the past few years. While I do not profess to understand the reasons behind these changes, I have established that the changes are not exclusive to one particular element in the family process.

There is a clear pattern of change in the causality of single father households over the past 30 years.
During the early 1960s the largest number of single-father households was caused by spousal absence and widowhood.

Divorce was less of a cause, and never-married fathers were the lowest representation within the population. These trends have shifted radically over the 30 year period. Divorce is now clearly the leading factor in single-father households, while widowhood has become the lowest causal factor.

Definite increases in never married fathers and reductions in spousal absence suggest that there has been an increase in the awareness of the legal system’s recognition of a single father’s ability to care for his children.

This also suggests that women are more willing to allow their husbands to raise their children. It also suggests that never-married fathers are becoming more involved with their rights to be fathers to children born out of wedlock.

These major shifts became noticeable in the early and middle 70s, tying into the growth of no fault divorce and the publication of much of the literature of the women’s movement.

Unfortunately, these trends do not seem to be static, and it would be difficult to suggest these reasons as primary causal factors. It is more reasonable to suggest that the increase of women into the workforce and changing social values played an important role.

In retrospect this may only mean that those fathers who in the past had been deserted are now filing for divorce because they are beginning to experience support from the legal system.

This is a hopeful sign, but it is not yet fully apparent that the court systems are prepared to make major or changes in their traditional “mother meets the best interests of the child” requirement. The real changes are most apparent when we examine the decrease in widowhood and the increase in never-married households.

Obviously, widowhood is less of a problem because people are living longer. Whether this is an indicator of better health care for women is yet to be researched.

What may be the most interesting information to come from this research is the increase in never married father-headed households.

With out of wedlockbirths reaching over 30 percent in the middle to late 1990s, it is very positive to see information that suggests fathers are taking their responsibilities seriously in this area. While this is not meant to sanction out-of wedlock births, I am glad to see men taking this responsibility seriously.

While little doubt exists that there have been changes behind the structure of single-father-headed households, there is a great need for more research in this area.

The Single and Custodial Fathers Network and the Fathers’ Resource Center of Pittsburgh hope to initiate
some of this research in the near future.

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