The Children of Single Parents Are Doing Better Than You Realized

Here are some ways the children of single parents are doing better than the kids of married parents

Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave
Published in
7 min readMay 22, 2021

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Rick Santorum was just fired from CNN after repeated expressions of bigotry toward Native Americans and other groups, too. That reminded me that he has also been bashing single parents and their children for quite some time. When I wrote Singled Out, I used one of his blanket statements about the supposed superiority of the children of married couples as a starting point for my discussion of what the research really does show.

In the chapter, on the myth that the children of single parents are doomed, I first discuss a very disappointing PBS Frontline segment on single parenting in which the award-winning correspondent, Alex Kotlowitz, profiled a single mother, Janny, and obsessed about her marriage prospects.

Here’s what I said next, in Singled Out. At the end of the excerpt, I’ve listed links to other research and writings published later. They are all consistent with what I said in Singled Out.

Frankly, I don’t like Senator Rick Santorum’s views. But I’m going to grant his wish. Santorum, you may remember, said, “Every statistic that I’m aware of — and I’d be anxious to hear if there’s one on the other side — says that marriage is better for children — every one — and usually by a very large margin.” So here, in the spirit of magnanimity, is not just one, but a whole array of findings you did not hear about on Frontline.

Let’s start with that “very large margin.” In the National Drug Abuse Survey, the difference in abuse between adolescents in mother plus father homes and mother-only homes was 1.2%. Hardly “a very large margin.” Moreover, on average, marriage was the worst possible outcome for kids when the marriage was between a father and a stepmother.

When studies find that children of single parent households do worse in some way or another than children of married parents, there is often a critical difference in the two kinds of households: The single-family households have less income, less in savings, and fewer assets. That means that the married parents are more likely to be able to afford health insurance, safe…

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Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com