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The Results: How does the Fatherless Family Affect Adults, Children and Society?

Friday, January 29th, 2016

Indirect Effects, Selection Effects and Policy Implications

It has long been recognised that children growing up in lone-mother households are more likely to have emotional, academic, and financial problems and are more likely to engage in behaviour associated with social exclusion, such as offending, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse or worklessness. It can be difficult to disentangle the many factors and processes that contribute to these increased risks. For example, children from lone-mother households tend to experience more poverty than children from two-parent families. Observers might therefore ask whether poor outcomes are more the result of living in lone-mother households per se, or whether they are more the result of other factors, such as living in poverty, which may have been caused or worsened by living in a lone-mother family. In this case, some of the effects of loneparenthood operate indirectly through a kind of chain reaction causing poverty, which in turn causes other problems. These factors contribute to what are known as indirect effects. It has also been pointed out that some of the factors which tend to coincide with living in a lone-mother household, such as poverty, may have existed prior to the break up of the parents? marriage or cohabiting union or, in the case of unpartnered mothers, prior to the birth of the child. In other words, some of the negative outcomes experienced by children and adults who live in lone-mother households might have occurred even if the parents had maintained an intact family household. It also has been argued that lone-mother households might have been formed due to negative situations such as domestic violence or other forms of conflict.

In these cases, some of the poor outcomes experienced by those who live in lone-parent households might be the result of having lived with conflict before the family dissolution. Families with existing problems and disadvantages might be ?selected into? lone-parent families. On the other hand, people who have had many advantages such as a stable and loving family background, economic security, and good education may be more likely to marry and maintain a parental partnership than those who had fewer advantages. Observers might ask whether positive outcomes in these cases are due more to the pre-existing advantages which were selected into stable two-parent families or more to benefits conferred by marriage itself. These factors contribute to what are known as selection effects. Social scientists use special study designs and statistical methods to measure indirect and selection effects. Both types of effect are real, and they do play important roles in many outcomes. However, in most cases, they do not explain all of the increased risks associated with living in lone-mother households. This has important policy implications, because, even if all lone-mother households were brought above the poverty line, they would still have increased risks of some problems. So, comparing the proportion of people fromdifferent family structures who experience various problems does provide a good picture of how people are really living. By exploring and controlling for the role of indirect effects and selection effects, social scientists can help explain how problems occur and perhaps help to devise solutions to problems.

Source: Experiments in Living – The Fatherless Family

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