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The term lone parent family does not have an exact definition but broadly consists of a family where one parent lives alone with one or more dependent children. This then raises the question of what a ”dependent child” is and what constitutes ”living alone and ”living with. In the UK, ”dependent children are defined for many official purposes as children aged up to 16 years old or 17-18 and in full-time education but many ”children over this age still live with their parents. When parents separate, the children may live with their mother for half the time and their father for the other half and so the simple division between a ”lone parent and ”non-resident parent may not be clear. Lone parent families are defined as having only one adult but if a lone parent begins to form a cohabiting relationship with a new partner, the family will, at some point, transform into a ”step-parent family. The point at which this happens is not necessarily clear-cut. The definition of a lone parent family is therefore complex.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was an increase in the number of lone parent families across many advanced industrial countries due to increasing divorce among married couples. In the 1980s and 1990s, a growing number of young single women became mothers outside of marriage, particularly in the UK. But while the growth of lone parenthood is a common trend across many countries, rates of lone parenthood, and types of lone parenthood, vary across different countries. Countries that are generally rich, Protestant, and north European have had higher rates, particularly of single lone mothers, compared with countries that are generally poor, Catholic, and southern countries. Lone parent families tend to be headed by women in most countries and also tend to be poorer than other groups but, again, this varies depending on how welfare states in particular countries support lone parents.
- Rowlingson, K. & McKay, S. (2002) Lone Parent Families: Gender, Class and State. Pearson Education, Harlow.