Solo parent trap widens gap for rich and poor

Sunday Star Times 12 August 2012
Growing up with two parents in a stable family, Cassandra Faithfull never envisaged the life she now leads. She would study, work hard, find a partner, have children and own a home. But the plan broke down. As a “naive” 22-year-old, she fell pregnant and her study plans went on hold. Five years later, another child to a different father. Down the track, two more to another man.

….Statistics show her married counterparts have the advantage, both in terms of income and time spent raising children. Their children are in turn statistically more likely to finish university, find good jobs, and make stable marriages. Faithfull is far from unique. A Families Commission report last week showed steady decline in two-parent families since 1976, and an almost tripling of solo-parent families between 1976 and 2006. Nine out of 10 one-parent families earn well below the median household income, and their children have significantly higher poverty rates. Nearly half of all births in 2010 were to unmarried women, compared with about 10 per cent in 1964, and research from the United States suggests half of unmarried parents living together at a child’s birth split up within five years. The push for women to get educated has made it harder for women like Faithfull to break out of the solo-parent trap. Instead, educated, well-off people are marrying, widening the gap between rich and poor families. New Zealand is becoming a society of family haves and have-nots, with marriage and its benefits increasingly confined to the prosperous. “In the past the theory was educated women would have more choice, so wouldn’t need to get married,” commission lead researcher Jeremy Robertson said. “But the trend is counter to the early theories. We didn’t really predict that.”

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