Students from two-parent families achieve a grade level higher than children of single parents

No hedLudger Woessmann,  a professor of economics at the University of Munich and director of the Ifo Center for the Economics of Education, looked at data from the Programme for International Student Assessment to determine how the United States compares to other countries in achievement of children of single parents. He writes about his findings in a new article for Education Next.

Here is a release on his findings:

The United States has one of the highest percentages of single-parent families among developed countries, and the educational achievement gap between children raised in single-parent and two-parent families, although present in many countries, is particularly pronounced in the United States.

In a new article for Education Next, Ludger Woessmann examines data from the Programme for International Student Assessment to determine how the United States compares to other countries.

From 2000 to 2012, the share of 15-year-olds living in single-parent families increased from 18 to 21 percent in the United States as compared to 12 to 14 percent on average among the 28 studied industrialized countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

At the same time, the achievement gap between children from single-family and two-parent families in the United States is among the largest, at 27 points, comparable to one year’s worth of learning.

Disadvantages of growing up in single-parent families in the U.S. include lower educational attainment, greater psychological distress, and poor adult outcomes in areas such as employment, income, and marital status.

“Such disadvantages have also been documented in other countries,” says Woessmann, “but cross-country evidence has been difficult to obtain, in part because of differing methods for measuring family structure and child outcomes.”

Therefore the PISA studies, which asked representative samples of 15-year-olds in participating countries the same questions about their living arrangements and tested them in the same achievement tests, provided Woessmann a unique opportunity to address this challenge.

Shares of single-parent families and achievement disparities differ widely across countries. Mexico, for example, shows no achievement difference by family structure. Belgium, Japan, and the Netherlands exhibit high achievement disparities, although single parenthood is not particularly prevalent in these countries.

Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain stand out as countries with relatively low achievement disparities and relatively low prevalence of single parenthood. The German-speaking countries show low achievement disparities despite higher levels of single-parenthood.

Woessmann also finds that, while the achievement gap between students from single- and two-parent families increased by 33 percent from 13.6 to 18 percent on average across the OECD countries over the period, it declined in the United States, and by a large margin (29 percent).

However, the United States is still one of six countries with achievement differences larger than 25 points.

Woessmann concludes:  “This variation in trends shows that achievement disparities by family structure are by no means destiny…Future research should investigate to what extent factors such as differing welfare systems, child support facilities, divorce regulations and other country characteristics may lie behind the differences in achievement gaps…across countries and over time.”

 

Reader Comments 0

112 comments
531greyghost
531greyghost

America hates its men and is basically getting what it deserves. As more and more men realize this men will correct this if they feel America is worth it. (It's not)  MGTOW Enjoy the decline 

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

Being a single parent doesn't make children dumb.
Only a dumb writer would make that argument.
Immature, young, uneducated parents create dumb children.
In Atlanta, young, uneducated, immature people (they don't deserve the "parent" title) procreate like alley cats, then blame other people when their children don't learn.
One's social status (married or single) has nothing to do with education.

Bernie31
Bernie31

President Clinton and President Obama were BOTH raised by Single Parents. Anyone with a ounce of common sense should know with (2) Two Parents in the Household, actively working and involved in a Child's life. That Child should perform at a Higher Standard than those without Two Parents whom are actively involved. With that being said there are Still just a many who are able to achieve the same Goal. If a Single Parent is working and actively involved in their Child's Life. The results can be the same or BETTER!


Black,White,Yellow or Brown.....Take yer pick!

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

All very politically incorrect!  This prof ought to be defenestrated!


"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." 


Herr Woessmann is blaming the victims!



BCW1
BCW1

For the first time in our nations history only 46% of students live in 2 parent households. The divorce rate is dropping but the single parent home rate is rising. And lets be clear, there are issues facing public schools that they CANNOT solve. All of a sudden, folks think that we can solve the worlds problems and I have news for you...we cant!!!  How can a school possible meet all the needs today. That is like going to a GP doctor for a rare disease. You go to a specialist for that but yet schools are supposed to specialize and provide every program to meet every need??? 

3 Georgia Peaches
3 Georgia Peaches

I am a  single mother of 7 year old identical twin girls in 2nd grade.  My girls are both intellectually gifted with IQs of 145+  and learning disabled (2e) They both suffer to varying degrees from dyslexia, dysgraphia, Executive Functioning disorder and ADD which are all easily compensated for in learning with proper educational interventions.  My battles with public school to teach my children to read and write have us on the verge of homelessness as it is a full time job plus to advocate and undertake private remedial strategies.  The school knows  they have these issues and takes advantage of the fact that I can not afford to fight them adequately so continues to do as they wish  as the gap continues to widen.  I am well educated and have been a career professional up until they went to Kindergarten and given their struggles am unable to work full time and instead shuttle between private therapies and tutor them at home.  Single parenting was not my choice and I recognize I am not a typical single parent although there are many single parents like me fighting these battles everywhere in the US.  


What the US needs to do is fund NCLB properly so schools are mandated to help all kids without fail and are not able to take 50% of the federal funds they receive for special ed for use in their general fund - There is a bill pending now in the US to do just this If you care, PLEASE support it any way you can.  

The US also need to take a hard look at the welfare system that promotes single parenting by rewarding additional dollars for each additional child and yet, completely neglects child support enforcement.  The US should Immediately deny welfare for any mother refusing to put a fathers name on a birth certificate.  Put the dead beat dads into a license plate manufacturing facility and make the mom's live off their earnings in government housing with food provided.....no additional dollars, no additional kids....easy fix!  Sorry to get socialistic her but reality of abuse is rampant everywhere in the US! If we stop the root cause everything improves as a result.  


Single parenting statistically puts children at risk for more than just education issues. NO child asks to be born, nor do they have control over what they are born into.   If you want to make this a race thing your statistics could go there easily, but if you want to do some good with these statistics - zoom out a little and look at the actual US Educational and our US Welfare issues that perpetuate them and do some good to FIX things for all children.  


LaKeisha
LaKeisha

Kids do better in two-parent households.  Since when has THAT been news?

Starik
Starik

The big problem isn't single parenting. It isn't race.  It's a culture, not entirely limited to black people that sees the pinnacle of success to be a job with the NFL or the NBA, or as a rapper, or as a DJ...or as a gangsta.

redweather
redweather

@newsphile @redweather @Starik  Popular music has always been blamed for all kinds of things, but I'm not so sure there is any real good evidence to support you contentions.

newsphile
newsphile

@redweather @Starik   The loud rap music with vulgar lyrics that demean women is played mostly by white youngsters in our area.  The culture of disrespecting women, violence, and such is a significant factor in the increase of violent crimes - murders, rapes, armed robberies, home invasions, etc. - by teens and young adults and is what a lot of troubled, failing students are doing with their time.  When one listens to this music, plays violent electronic games, and watches violent movies for hours on end, this behavior tends to become normalized.  There are some really good parents of all races, and there are some really bad and absent parents of all races.  Many of society's issues have nothing at all to do with race. 

newsphile
newsphile

@redweather @newsphile @Starik  Search stats for violent crimes committed by teens and young adults before and after this craze of violent movies, games, and music began.

Starik
Starik

@newsphile @redweather @Starik If you have poor white kids who are, say 10% of a school populated by blacks - same for Hispanics - they adopt the ghetto culture and speech patterns to survive. There's a difference between race and culture.  Poor black folk are affected by their toxic culture.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik


If we want more stable families in America, we must place concentrated effort in helping the young black men of this nation to succeed instead of blaming them.  We must find ways to keep them successful in school.  We must teach them always on the level where they function, regardless of their ages or grade level.  We must provide the wherewithal for them to be able, in larger numbers, to enter the job market.  We must realize that there are too many stereotypical fears toward the black male, that have been present for as long as I can remember, and help America to overcome its own fears.  We must make certain that police have better training in their own psychological make-up so that they do not react from fear or from power when they approach a black man with minor infractions, but with insight.  We must focus on the out-of-balance number of white and black young males who are incarcerated and develop community programs to change this phenomenon in America.


When we can address all of these very real factors with effectiveness and insight, then black and/or poor families will become as stable as all other American families.





Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @Starik I too have known a lot of these young black men, and women. We do need to ensure that those who can succeed, and want to, do.  We will also have to deal with those who have no interest in school, or learning, or anything but being Bad [African-Americans] and stop them ruining school for their peers and terrorizing their neighborhoods. Teaching them on the level where they function means segregation of some and retention in grade for others - and who needs a 15 year old with a bad attitude stuck in the  6th or 7th grade?  The police have plenty of insight, believe me. We can stop the incarceration disparity when disproportionate numbers of young black males quit committing armed robberies and murdering and assaulting their peer group.


That said, the police do need policing.  How?  Too many police protect their own.

redweather
redweather

@newsphile @redweather @Starik  According to the FBI, violent crime in the US has decreased by 13.4 percent since 2001.  Indeed, I believe that trend began well before 2001, just don't have time to hunt statistics right now.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik 


(1)  Your comment:  "We will also have to deal with those who have no interest in school, or learning, or anything but being Bad [African-Americans] and stop them ruining school for their peers and terrorizing their neighborhoods."


I never perceived of any student whom I taught, even through his or her 12th grade year, as a "bad" student.  Perhaps, that is why I was able to motivate my students to improve their situations.


(2) Your comment: "Teaching them on the level where they function means segregation of some and retention in grade for others - and who needs a 15 year old with a bad attitude stuck in the  6th or 7th grade?"


Obviously, you have not read my posts regarding multiaged and continuous progress instructional groupings, as well as my posts regarding instruction of students on various levels within the same classroom.  Starik, you are showing that you do not have a sophisticated understanding of instructional delivery. Moreover, you are showing that your biases control your thought patterns, instead of allowing in-depth knowledge to guide your thought patterns. You also appear to lack in-depth understanding of the reasons for violence in the black community and for the need for greater police insight.



newsphile
newsphile

@redweather @newsphile @Starik   Please do make it a priority to look up stats related to violent crimes committed by teenagers and young adults.  Those stats are increasing. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik 


Thank you for your gracious  words about me, Starik.  I have always enjoyed having a dialogue with you, even though we may disagree on various matters, because you have always impressed me as an honest person who seeks positive answers and who seeks to make our society better.  You do not play games (which I admire), but speak directly as you perceive situations and ideas relative to your firsthand experiences.  Your insights are needed on this blog.


Thank you again, for your kind words about me, Starik.

Starik
Starik

@popacorn @MaryElizabethSings @Starik No, she's a nice lady who worked in black schools and cared about her kids.  People, like me, who worked  in the courts or police work have a different perspective.  We get to meet the bad ones; we also see good kids who for various reasons do bad things. 

Bernie31
Bernie31

@Starik  - Some People never seem to grow,learn or change. I have watched your postings now for (3) Three years. You are just as Racist and Prejudiced as you were (3) Three years ago!  Do you not ever read, go to seminars or socialize with UDDER human Beings? 


I suppose on the Day of the worms you will be singing the same old song....


Boy are you going to be surprised if GOD is Black and a Woman!


Bud, you are going to be UP a creek without a Paddle...uh..huh.

Lynn43
Lynn43

I have or have had  friends who are single parents who's husbands are decreased, and  their children (friends' children and students) seem to be doing o.k. with their lives.  At first it was very hard, but the children seem to adjust much better than the adults. These children seem to want to be something their Fathers could be proud of.   Children of divorce are a different matter.  It just depends on how the adults conduct themselves.  No matter what the reason, these children and students deserve an extra smile to make their day. 

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

The Great Society programs removed the role of the father as an important financial provider of the poor family.  Instead "the govt" stepped in and took that role.  The father was left with no role other than sperm donor.  Meanwhile, the same programs couldn't have done a better job of creating addicts - people who were addicted to dependency on the govt for their support - rather than helping those people better themselves as a community.


Until the 60s, wave after wave of poor, illiterate people (Irish, Italian, etc) came to America, and in a matter of a generation or two bettered their lives and their communities.  And millions of poor blacks from the south moved north, and created better lives for themselves.  


It wasn't until "uncle sam" stepped in with this "caring, compassionate" plan to cause dependency and addiction to govt support, that this process stopped in its tracks.  In fact, went backwards - anyone who can look at the poor (in particular poor black) communities and say that the they have seen anything other than devastation is blind to the truth.


But again, all that matters is that "we care".....not that we get actual results.  Glad those who think that way don't run drug addiction centers - or they'd be the ones handing out the drugs, since they wouldn't want to see addicts have to "go through the pain of withdrawal".  Much better just to keep handing them the very thing that is enslaving them - as if somehow that is "caring".  And pushing someone to be self sufficient, through their own efforts, is something only "evil Republicans" do...how heartless.  Much better to keep providing them the drug of govt support...


Sad.....in particular how "community leaders" have enabled and allowed this to happen - and watched as the family units disintegrated, kids roam the streets instead of focus on education, and head on a clear path to jail.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@dcdcdc


I spent 35 years of my life helping people, especially poor black families, help themselves in substantive ways.  All I get from you is rhetoric.  In fact, I will say further that you do not know what you are talking about.  You write as one who is carrying around long-held biases that are not in tune with factual reality.  The "Great Society" did not cause drug problems in this nation.  That is absurd thinking.

Raja44
Raja44

I think that low SES, and too little economic opportunity -- i.e., not near enough decent paying middle class jobs -- definitely contributes to the high rate of single parenthood in this country.  If there were more good jobs, and the middle class job sector hadn't been hollowed out over the last 30 years, it would be easier for parents and families to stick together, no question.


But I do think there's something else or additional at play in the USA, which seems to involve a growing cultural disregard or lack of priority for family, and for staying together to raise children.  I was struck by Wascatlady's comment the other day on a different topic about how very few, or almost none, of the rural, lower SES children she taught decades ago (1960s, I believe) came from homes with divorced parents.  That got me to thinking, and I thought back when I was in grade school, and I can't remember a single childhood friend or classmate whose parents were divorced, when I was k-12 (1970s, early 1980s).  I can remember a couple of parents I heard about who divorced after I went to college or was in my 20s, but I don't remember any divorces among my classmates age 18 and younger.  I'm sure there were some at my schools, but it was darn rare. 


Nowadays it's totally different.  I'd venture that a good 30-40% of my kids' classmates come from divorced homes -- and that's in a relatively higher SES area in Atlanta.  And there seems to be more divorces, between parents of school age kids, all the time.  I don't know what has happened, but people just don't seem to prioritize hanging in there and keeping the family together for the kids' sake as much any more.  And no matter how hard a divorced couple tries, it's almost impossible to maintain the same positive home environment for the kids after a divorce.  It's just too divisive and disruptive, and the best that can be done is not to slide backwards, but usually it's never going to be as good for the kids.  


I don't know if it's just people are more selfish, more narcissistic, more distracted or negatively influenced by the internet/social media, or what.  But the commitment to family and sticking together just doesn't seem to be there like it used to be.  And our schools and educational outcomes, and society in general, will definitely suffer as a consequence. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Raja44 It was 1973.  But, like you, in the 50s and 60s I can recall only one classmate from a single parent home, and hers was a little different because her father had died (as a result of nuclear testing).  I knew no one with divorced parents. I knew no one with only one parent except that girl (class valedictorian).  I knew two girls in my high school class of 230 who engaged in "premature family formation" before graduation.


I recall the second year I taught I had a girl whose mother never married. (The father was reputed to be the woman's father, but that is another story...)  I was helping her fill out the registration card because she told me she did not read or write (which puzzled me).  So I got to the part about "father" and she said, "I don't know her father" and that REALLY perplexed me.  Also,virtually NONE of my children's fathers were veterans, either.  I guess Vietnam did not occur in the mountains.  But I digress.


Even now, of the Latino children I taught over the last 15 years, 90% or more are from two-parent homes.  Quite a bit different from our Appalachian white families!

newsphile
newsphile

@Wascatlady @Raja44  We wonder why there are so many troubled students and why so many marriages end in divorce and why there are fewer marriages.  Here are my thoughts.

Every generation wants their children to have more and better of everything than they had and an easier time getting it.  Parents may be corporate executives or welfare recipients, but they want their children to follow in their footsteps and to exceed their own accomplishments or they want the opposite, to have nothing to do with their children.  I've observed this in all races and all socio-economic levels.

Each generation appears to become less inclined to teach children responsibility, cause and effect. We want our children to have anything and everything they want, to have it now, and to have it effortlessly. This mindset has no consideration of others nor of consequences to others or even to self. 

Weddings occur with fairy tale expectations.  We enter marriage with the idea that if we don't like it, we'll bail.  All marriages require work on the part of both parties, but our sense of self-esteem-on-steroids races us to divorce court the first time anything doesn't go our way.   And, it's all about winning there, too.  Never mind what's best for the children.  After divorce, the two parents use the children as pawns.

Marriage is now almost a joke in some circles.  Having a child out of wedlock earns more money for indigent mothers.  Public figures who have children out of wedlock enjoy all the media coverage. We worship drug-crazed actors and athletes who have no morals; we play violent video games; we watch violent movies; we listen to vulgarity-filled music that is insulting to marriage, women, and basic decency.  Parents used to parent, but now children and teens watch and listen to whatever they choose. 

The number of marriages is down; the number of divorces is up; violence is out of control.  It's no wonder these problems spill into the classroom.  More often than not, a teacher cannot punish bad behaviors because it might offend Johnny or Suzy, or their parents. 

When we no longer glorify instant gratification, inflated self esteem, violence, abuse, and "my way or the highway" mindsets, maybe we can begin to turn things around.

redweather
redweather

@MaryElizabethSings @Raja44  But every marriage has its measure of unhappiness.  You can still be a very good mother or father even if you're not wild about your spouse.

newsphile
newsphile

@redweather @newsphile @Wascatlady @Raja44   I agree, redweather.  In the meantime, we can blame it on poverty, excess of money, or whatever we choose.  I know several single parents who have raised tremendous families.  The kids were not problem students and have become hard-working adults and are now good parents themselves. I am reminded of both ends of the socio-economic spectrum:  there are those in poverty who are not performing well and there are those with wealth who are spoiled rotten.  Sadly, the middle class didn't get bypassed with this one. I believe when good parenting is absent, whether it's a one or two parent household, the amount of money doesn't ensure success. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Raja44


Let us not put on too rosey-colored glasses as we look at the past history of American families.  I remember in the 1950s, the Eisenhower years, that many families stayed unhappily together for the sake of appearances, which led directly to the 1960s generation of young people who were determined to live more authentically moral lives.

Raja44
Raja44

@Wascatlady Ok, 1973 -- I was close!  But it's interesting that we had the same experience -- very few divorces and broken homes around us back in the day.  A far cry from today's society. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Raja44 @Wascatlady Last year, my last in the classroom, I'd guess half the Anglo kids had had more than one "daddy," even if temporarily.

Raja44
Raja44

@Wascatlady @Raja44  Very interesting, and sad.  From almost zero, to 50% in about 40 years.  We seem to be literally falling apart.  This can't be good for kids.  But hey, it's fun to blame the schools for it!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather


No doubt about that.  However, when the degree of tension is too great in the family which is trying to stay together for appearances, the children feel that unhappiness and tension and that is destructive to them.  I will also assert that some people can be better mothers and fathers to their children if they do not live in the same household with one another.  Every family's circumstance is unique and different.  Thus, when we make general rules for society as a whole we become sanctimoniously shallow in our assessments.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Maureen, I think there is a LOT of delusion related to future plans.  Many students and their parents don't seem to have a firm grasp on reality.  If you cannot pass 4th grade math, you are unlikely to be on the track to become an astronaut.  If you drop out of school, you are unlikely to become a doctor.  Just because you WANT to do something, does not mean you have the skills.  Those have to be developed through effort and innate ability.  I think we have gotten too used to instant gratification and the idea that"you can do anything" without the requisite effort, ability, and just plain luck sometimes.  I saw this a lot not only in teaching but in working at an adult literacy center.


On the study, I have some questions.  In some countries, people are less willing to marry, yet they still form the kind of bond that mimics having two parents.  Did the author take that into account?  Were these considered "two parent families?"  How did Woessman control for co-committant variables?  For example, two parent families are generally higher SES.  Higher SES parents, in general, are more highly educated, and offer more to their children from before conception onward.  And then there is the whole bucket of worms regarding societal norms.  I would guess, in some cultures, there is a much stronger expectation and much stronger pressure to adopt behaviors that lead to academic success.  Not the "I deserve it" attitude we see so widely expressed in the US (which is, ultimately, not very helpful.  And we see it among ALL American society, including the most accomplished.  Even Social Security recipients have this attitude)  In some societies, you gotta prove your worth every day.  Builds a different kind of person, I would say.

PJ25
PJ25

We've know this for decades just as we've also known the parent's education, income and even credit score ultimately plays a role in their child's learning or lack thereof.  It's Sociology 201. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

What makes the U. S. different? Germany does not have the history of the United States, in terms of generational poverty which was created by slavery and Jim Crow. Moreover, Germany, and many other European nations, have societies which value and pay for social programs and education which lift and support all citizens, without judgment.  In America, we have been working through the disparities of inequality for generations.  Today's America is simply part of that ongoing process which will take more decades to finally make equitable.


When many in America see those in poverty as unworthy, then that negative reaction reinforces the inertia of depression in those who are already in generational poverty.  We must change how we see and interact with those in poverty in America. We must see with historical eyes.  Our national raison d'etre, as defined by Jefferson, is that all are created equal.  We must start to believe that in our hearts and live out our American creed by how we treat and support those in poverty, without judgment, but with insight and care. 


My thoughts, above, are based upon psychological factors which I observed to be true in my years of teaching the poor white and black students of south Georgia and in south DeKalb County.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

" Few of you are addressing the main theme of this report: Children of single parent families in the United State pay a steeper price in terms of academic achievement than peers in other countries.

The author is recommending we look at why."

Yes, that's ONE way to try to frame the debate.  Falling for that dubious bait, here in the US there is an established difference in outcomes between children of widowed and divorced parents, and children born to mothers (yes mothers are the ones who give birth and end up with them) who were never married.  The study only notes 15 year olds living with a single parent, not the actual history of his/her family.  

Stepping away from our moderator's effort to structure the debate, this is yet more proof of children being ill-served by their parents' decision to make babies out of wedlock.  The correlation in THIS country between poverty and single parenthood (roughly FIVE times more likely to be impoverished) along with the harmful effects on children leaves us with two choices: we can decide we have a host of poverty-delinquency-school achievement-incarceration-teenage pregnancy problems that we need to address with multiple varied systemic changes and interventions, or we can realize we have a host of problems that will get dramatically better if we can somehow increase the proportion of children who are born to two married parents.

straker
straker

Astropig - "so your father was a Republican"


Your need to change your name here.


I suggest "Rock Bottom".

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

What makes the U.S. different?

Socio-cultural environment.

Every country's is a reflection of the people who live there. 

Hoops40
Hoops40

@ maureen.  I think they are just burned out.  they spend more time "training" in middle school then some top college programs.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

For discussion purposes: 

The highest rates of nonmarital childbearing occur in Latin America (55–74 percent). The only other countries to share these high rates are South Africa (59 percent) and Sweden (55 percent). The range within Europe is huge: from 18 percent (Italy) to 55 percent (Sweden). Those in North America and Oceania are also high and rising, though New Zealand (47 percent) and the United States (41 percent) stand out, with more than four out of ten births outside of marriage in these two countries.

http://sustaindemographicdividend.org/articles/international-family-indicators/global-childrens-trends

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney But does "non-marital" mean single parent?  In many situations, there is a second, active birth parent but no marriage.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@hoops. I have been surprised at the number of parents across all incomes who have big hopes for their kids becoming, if not pro athletes, star college players. And they invest a lot of money and time into those hopes.

And I have been surprised at how few of them -- despite all the years of club teams, summer camps, private athletic coaching -- end up playing college sports.

It is similar to how many parents of bright 7th graders expect their kids to attend Yale or Princeton. Most people are unaware of the competition for such schools.