One Parent Families in Europe

One parent families form about 10-15 percent of all families in most industrialized countries.
We have outlined the key characteristics of single parents across Europe. However, the experiences and needs of one-parent households differ according to the age of both the parent and child, and that the vast majority of such households are single-mother households.

Younger mothers and mothers with young children are the least-employed parent groups, and that this is exacerbated for single mothers. This is relevant to policy considerations, as the age composition of one-parent households also differs from State to State.

1. Issues

1. Number of single parents has increased across Europe.

  • EU average (2010): 10.4% (9.2% headed by women, 1.2% headed by men); some countries up to 18.5% (UK)

2. One-parent families are a major risk group for living in poverty.

  • 32% of single-parent households as against 12% of couples with children (EP Report on the situation of single mothers, 2011).

3. Single mothers have less access to labour market and to professional or highly skilled careers that would sustain them financially:

  • Lower employment of single mothers (84.1% vs. 90.6% of mothers with partners, Labour Force Survey 2010 as in Ruggeri & Bird, 2014).
  • Lower involvement in professional or highly skilled careers (especially at single mothers with part-time jobs).
  • Especially at young single mothers (<30) with very young children.

4. Children in one-parent families are especially vulnerable.

  • Higher risk of child poverty (UK: 4 out of 10 children in SP families living in relative poverty, as against 2 out of children in couples families)
  • Higher risk of stress if parental conflict present
  • Less possibilities of spending free time

2. Causes

One-parent families challenges are not related to the family structure, but to the socio-cultural processes: lacking enough support means less opportunities.

Poverty and lower employment:

  • EU gender pay gap lowers incomes for single mothers.
  • Gender stereotypes make it difficult for young mothers to pursue their qualification.
  • Combining work and family is impossible at some positions due to lack of flexible work arrangements and available childcare.
  • There are public spending disparities on family benefits in EU.

Parental conflict:

  • Insufficient support for shared parenting and parental collaboration after divorce in most countries: divorce and custody hearings aggravate parental conflict rather than help find optimal solution for children.

3. Consequences

  • Impaired health of parents and children living in poverty, including higher risk of depression.
  • Higher risk of impaired psychomotor development, worse school outcomes, physical and emotional well-being and peer relationships at children of single parents.
  • Aggravated female poverty in old age.

4. Policy measures

Policy measures should be supported that:

  • Introduce gender-focused strategies to tackle female poverty and parental involvement.
  • Increase the availability of flexible work arrangements.
  • Increase the availability of childcare for children of all age groups (Barcelona targets).
  • Support programmes facilitating transition to qualification and sustainable careers.
  • Introduce benefits tailored for one-parent families, such as tax credits/deductions for single parents, substitute maintenance or other provisions.
  • Introduce the issue of facilities for one-parent families in smart-cities policies and projects
  • Promote one-parents networking opportunities (Small Families (IT) research proposal)
  • Support parental responsibility for the well-being of their children even after family breakup:
    1. mediation and counselling during the couple dissolution,
    2. promotion of sharing parenting during the whole family cycle (involvement of fathers in child care, facilitating contact of the other parent after divorce etc.)