The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The Single-Parent Handicap—Even in Western Europe




When confronted with studies detailing the hardships facing American children of single parents, progressives often shift the focus, arguing that these hardships would disappear if only American policymakers gave single mothers the kind of generous public support given their counterparts in Western Europe. But the notion that welfare-state largesse can eliminate the single-parent handicap squares poorly with empirical evidence. New evidence that the problems afflicting children of single parents persist even in progressive Western Europe appears in a Dutch study recently completed by analysts from HealthActCHQ in the United States and University Medical Centre Rotterdam and Statistics Netherlands. 

Based on data collected between 2001 and 2009 from the parents of 10,651 Dutch children between the ages of four and eleven, this new study seeks to identify the antecedents of “health-related quality of life” for these children. The authors of the study investigate this topic because they recognize that “Good health is something all parents want for their children as it contributes to their happiness and well-being.” They explain that “health-related quality of life (HRQOL) is the functional effect of a medical condition and/or its therapy upon a patient.” As a “subjective and multidimensional [metric], encompassing physical and occupational function, psychological state, social interaction and somatic sensation,” health-related quality of life proves “particularly suitable for describing the health of children in a general representative sample.”

Understandably, the researchers find that “the best predictors of health-related quality of life are variables that describe use of health care and the number of disorders and health complaints.” The authors of the study indeed regard it as “logically” inherent in the study design that “variables correlating with bad health, e.g., the number of conditions or health problems or more indirectly the number of health care visits, are negatively associated with HRQOL.” “Nonetheless,” the researchers report, “a number of demographic, socio-economic and family/environmental determinants contribute to a child’s health-related quality of life as well.”

Although less dramatic in its impact than a health problem such as, say, asthma, family structure stands out as one of the “family/environmental determinants” of children’s health-related quality of life. Compared to children in single-parent families, children living with two parents came in with a significantly higher overall score for health-related quality of life (p = 0.04).

The difference separating children living in the two different family structures stands out most clearly in the Psychosocial Summary Scale (PsS) part of the overall metric the researchers use: “living in single-parent families was a significant contributor to PsS score variance: a lower mean score was observed for children living in a single-parent family [p < 0.01].” The researchers tersely add: “This has been reported by others as well.”

No doubt progressives will continue to argue that a larger welfare state will wipe tears from all faces of single parents. But even in Europe, real-world research makes it increasingly difficult to take seriously such sola fide arguments.

(Marieke Houben-van Heteren et al., “Determinants of Health-Related Quality of Life in School-Aged Children: A General Population Study in the Netherlands,” PLoSOne 10.5[2015]: e0125083, Web.)

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