Two parents better than one

Is anyone surprised by this?

Sole parents of dependent children report lower levels of wellbeing across a range of measures, Stats NZ said today.

Data from a new supplement, added to the June 2020 quarter of the household labour force survey, shows that 15 percent of New Zealanders aged 18 years or older rated their overall life satisfaction as low (a score of 0–6 on a scale of 0–10, where 0 is completely dissatisfied and 10 is completely satisfied). However, nearly twice as many sole parents gave this low rating (27 percent), compared with only 12 percent of partnered parents to dependent children. The majority (83 percent) of these sole parents were women.

“The lower life satisfaction ratings illustrate the difficulties many sole parents face across a number of measures that are key to a person’s subjective wellbeing,” wellbeing and housing statistics manager Dr Claire Bretherton said. “Historically, people’s experience in income, health, loneliness, and housing quality had a strong relationship with overall life satisfaction, and sole parents fared poorly across a number of these areas.”

Eighteen percent of sole parents stated that they did not have enough money to meet everyday needs. This compared with only 5.2 percent of partnered parents and 6.2 percent of those who were not a parent to a dependent child. A further 43 percent of sole parents stated they had only just enough money.

In addition, one-quarter of sole parents had received help in the form of food, clothes, or money from an organisation, such as a church or foodbank, at least once in the previous year. Of those who received this form of help, two-thirds had done so more than once in the 12-month period.

Sole parents experienced higher levels of poor mental wellbeing, as measured by the World Health Organization’s WHO-5 Well-being Index (with poor mental wellbeing classified as having a weighted score out of 100 of 51 or below). One-third of sole parents, compared with 20 percent of partnered parents, and 17 percent of those without dependent children, were identified as having poor mental wellbeing using this index. Seventeen percent of sole parents also rated their overall general health as fair or poor, compared with only 8.3 percent of partnered parents.

Feelings of loneliness were also higher, with 35 percent of sole parents having felt lonely at least some of the time in the last four weeks. One in nine reported having felt lonely most or all the time. 

When compared with the total population, sole parents were nearly twice as likely to have experienced discrimination in the last 12 months; less likely to report feeling safe or very safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark; and more likely to report lower levels of trust.

Housing quality was also more of an issue for sole parents, with the proportions reporting a major problem with dampness or mould and with heating or keeping their house warm in winter around three times those of other New Zealanders.

“Housing quality is an important factor influencing both mental and physical health outcomes of household members,” Dr Bretherton said. “Housing conditions, and the neighbourhood in which a child is raised, have been shown to affect a child’s overall wellbeing.”

“All of these difficulties impact on not just the individual themselves but also their wider family,” Dr Bretherton said. Just under one-quarter of sole parents gave a low rating (0–6 out of 10) when asked about their family wellbeing, compared with 10 percent of partnered parents of dependent children.

Our children were young during the ag-sag.

In response to that my farmer was working long hours and often away from our farm leaving me as a semi-solo mother.

Parenting young children is demanding, it was hard enough doing it part-time by myself. It must be so much more challenging for those who are full-time sole parents.

Lindsay Mitchell has written several well -researched posts on the benefits of two-parent families. In her latest she notes:

I am constantly frustrated by data limitations because relationship status between parents, and parents and children in some cases, is ignored.

I am not a political conservative. But science finds committed parents (mostly manifested through a marriage) stay together more than any other co-producers of children. Their children demonstrably benefit from this. Most sociologists – and governments by extension –  are impervious though.

That stats are clear, children in two parent families generally have better outcomes than those raised by sole parents.

Stats NZ”s findings on the wellbeing of sole parents shows that adults score worse on wellbeing indicators when there’s only one parent in the home too.

That isn’t an argument for people to stay in abusive or dysfunctional relationships.

It is recognising that it is better for children and parents if there are two adults in the family, sharing the joys, the trials and the day to day ups and downs of parenting.

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