Effects of Being Raised by a Single Mother
Being raised by a single mother can have profound effects on a child’s development and long-term outcomes. While every family’s situation is unique, research has identified some common trends that emerge when children grow up in a single-parent household headed by a mother.
15 Clear Effects of Being Raised by a Single Mother
Here are 15 of the most prominent effects:
1. Increased Risk of Poverty
Single mothers are far more likely to live in poverty than married couples. In 2019, 30.7% of U.S. families led by single mothers were living below the poverty line, compared to only 7.9% of families with married parents.
Children raised by single moms are therefore much more likely to experience the stresses and deprivations of poverty while growing up. This can negatively impact their health, education, and overall well-being.
2. Lower Academic Achievement
On average, children raised by single mothers do not perform as well academically as those raised in two-parent families. For example, data from standardized tests conducted in 2012 showed that only 21% of children living with single mothers scored as “proficient” in reading by 8th grade.
In two-parent families, 45% of children achieved reading proficiency. Several factors may contribute to this disparity, including decreased parental involvement in schooling and less cognitive stimulation in impoverished homes.
3. Increased Behavioral Problems
Boys raised by single mothers demonstrate more aggressive behaviors and rule-breaking than boys raised by married parents. Girls exhibit higher levels of internalizing behaviors such as anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, and withdrawal.
The absence of a father figure in the home and decreased parental monitoring of children may partly explain these patterns. However, research shows that quality parenting can offset these risks.
4. Greater Risk of Emotional Problems
Children in single-mother homes have a higher risk of depression, low self-esteem, and emotional issues. Growing up without a father figure in the household is associated with poorer mental health outcomes.
However, a loving relationship with their mother can act as a buffer against these effects. Much depends on the mother’s psychological wellbeing, parenting skills, social support system, and economic resources.
5. Increased Risk of Substance Abuse
Adolescents living with only their mothers are more likely to engage in substance abuse, whether that involves alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, or harder drugs. In particular, boys without a consistent paternal presence display higher rates of illicit drug use and addiction.
Researchers believe this stems partly from lower parental monitoring as well as the modeling of negative behaviors by some single mothers who struggle with their own substance use issues.
6. More Difficulty Developing Relationships
Children raised by single mothers often have problems with interpersonal relationships and expressing emotions. The absence of a father deprives the child of a model for healthy relationships. Sons of single moms struggle more with establishing intimate bonds and managing emotions.
Daughters tend to internalize emotions and can become socially withdrawn. A stable paternal presence typically provides balance for a child’s social and emotional growth.
7. Increased Risk of Teen Pregnancy
Girls raised in single-mother homes are more likely to engage in early s3xual activity and experience teen pregnancy compared to girls raised in two-parent families. One study found that daughters of single teen moms are three times more likely to become teen moms themselves.
The transmission of disadvantage from one generation to the next perpetuates the cycle. Teen pregnancy also derails educational attainment and economic prospects for these girls.
8. More Susceptible to Peer Pressure
Children from single-mother homes tend to be more strongly influenced by their peer groups than those raised by two parents. The lack of an opposite-s3x parental figure deprives the child of a key source of guidance, discipline, and risk avoidance.
Kids often fill this void by seeking approval, identity, and behavioral norms from their friends. Susceptibility to negative peer influences increases their propensity toward substance abuse, s3xuality, and delinquency.
9. Increased Risk of Child Abuse
Sadly, children living with single mothers face substantially higher risks of physical abuse, s3xual abuse, and other forms of maltreatment. Compared to married biological parents, single moms are twice as likely to be abusers.
Possible contributing factors include social isolation, lack of spousal support, maternal distress, poverty, and lack of community resources. However, strong social support networks greatly reduce abuse risks for single mothers.
10. More Likely to Run Away from Home
Children in mother-only households are more inclined to run away from home. In one study, adolescents in single-parent families were twice as likely to have a runaway episode as those in two-parent families.
The absence of a father figure deprives the child of a key source of discipline, boundary-setting, and behavioral control. Kids also run away to escape family stress or seek more excitement.
Single mothers often lack the time and resources to provide sufficient monitoring of their children’s activities and whereabouts.
11. Greater Risk of Obesity
Children raised by single mothers face higher risks of obesity. According to one study, preschool-aged kids of single moms had BMI scores that were 10% higher than children of married parents. This effect persists through adolescence and adulthood.
Contributing factors include unhealthy diets due to financial constraints or lack of nutritional knowledge. Kids also engage in more sedentary activities with lower parental monitoring of screen time, physical activity, and diet.
12. More Likely to Experience Homelessness
Single-mother families are disproportionately represented in the homeless population. Around 60% of homeless families are headed by single women with children. Contributing factors include extreme poverty, family instability, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
Homelessness has devastating impacts on mothers and children, leading to poor health, disrupted schooling, and exposure to trauma.
13. Increased Risk of Incarceration
Boys raised by single mothers are significantly more likely to engage in criminal activity and face incarceration. According to one estimate, fatherlessness independently accounts for 63% of youth suicides, 90% of homeless/runaway youths, and 85% of behavioral disorders.
The increased delinquency of boys from single-mother homes largely explains these tragic statistics. However, a father figure need not be biological; research shows that mentorship programs help offset risks.
14. More Mental Health Issues
Children raised without fathers face higher risks of poor mental health as adults, including more depression, anxiety, anger management issues, loneliness, low self-esteem, and higher stress levels.
Growing up with limited emotional support, paternal nurturing, discipline, and role modeling appears to have lifelong mental health consequences. However, a mother’s love and psychosocial resources can mitigate these effects to a degree.
15. Lower Life Expectancy
People raised in fatherless homes have shorter average lifespans. One study found that individuals who grew up in single-mother households lived five years less on average compared to those raised in two-parent homes.
The reasons are complex, involving higher poverty, poorer health behaviors, increased criminality, and worse educational/economic outcomes later in life. However, maternal warmth and community support promote resilience and partially offset mortality risks.
In summary, growing up without a biological father increases a child’s risk for multiple adverse outcomes. However, this does not mean that children raised by single mothers are doomed to fail. With quality parenting, extended family support, access to resources, and engaged communities, children of single mothers can absolutely thrive.
Individual resilience, socioeconomic advantages, and strong social connections enable many to overcome the odds. Still, it is important to understand and address the unique challenges facing single mothers and their children. Supporting and empowering these families leads to better futures for us all.