Single parents have a legitimation problem: besides the fact that most of them are economically disadvantaged, they have always to state that they are as good a family and can care as good for their children than do families with both parents. An Italian group within the FamiliesAndSocieties project analyzed if children with a single parent read and study less or more than those with both parents, using data for the Italian Time Use Survey.
The authors found that children living with a single parent read and study almost half an hour less than those living with both parents.
Differences by education of parents were found. If the single parent is highly educated, the children spend even more time on studying than those with both parents highly educated. The big difference is in the families with less educated parents. In the less educated spectrum it is more than 30 minutes less.
Besides education income of the household matters even more. In poor single-parents households children devote almost 40 minutes less to human capital accumulation, while there is only 19 minutes difference in richer families.
It is not at all sure if only the status of single parents matter. There might be temporary effects shortly after separation or the age of the children at the time of separation matters. There are also no data on how long the separation already exists.
Quantitative studies always give a focussed perspective and cannot deal with everything simultaneously. Nevertheless, they show indicators of influence, indicators that matter. And again, this study from Italy—and it might be true for all the Southern European countries, as they have, like Spain or Portugal, the same little developed welfare system—shows the disadvantage of children in single parent families. Besides the strong efforts usually of single parents to care for the children and give them a warm home, the material necessities do not allow an overall care. Again, as seen in a lot of studies, education matters. The more education you find in the household the less disadvantaged children are in reading and studying.
I agree with the authors when they conclude that welfare system and school system should take care of easing disadvantages. The welfare system can do that in offering mainly financial support for single parent families and the school system in organizing it in a way which needs less involvement of parents.
If we would look at the help for families from the point of view of children, new solutions for distributing efficiently the benefits will emerge.