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Single-Mother Families

The rise in divorce rates has resulted in a substantial increase in the prevalence of single-parent families and the strong negative educational gradient in divorce means that many of these families are headed by women with a high school education or less. One recent study showed that 54 % of single mothers have a high school education or less, compared to 41 % of married mothers (Raymo 2015b). We are unaware of any research on change over time in the educational composition of single mothers, but the evidence of little change in the educational gradient in divorce just summarized suggests that the degree of concentration of single parenthood among the less educated has likely remained stable. Evidence that educational differences in remarriage are small and have not changed over time

(Raymo and Iwasawa 2014) is also consistent with stability in the educational composition of single mothers.

A growing body of research on the well-being of single mothers provides a wealth of evidence directly relevant to the idea of diverging destinies. Much of this work is based on the National Survey of Households with Children conducted by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (Zhou 2014). While this work does not focus explicitly on the role of single motherhood in contributing to socioeconomic differences in children’s resources, it does demonstrate the many disadvantages faced by these families. The fact that single mothers are heavily concentrated among the less educated provides indirect evidence of diverging destinies as a salient feature of the Japanese family landscape.

While nearly 90 % of single mothers are employed, over half of single-mother households live below the poverty line (OECD 2016b). Economic disadvantage is thus a defining feature of single-mother families and is only partially mitigated by the common strategy of “doubling up.” As shown by Shirahase and Raymo (2014), about one-third of single mothers coreside with their parents but, in many cases, these older parents are also economically disadvantaged. Other research has shown that, relative to married mothers, single mothers report lower levels of self-rated health and emotional well-being (Raymo and Zhou 2012; Raymo 2015b), spend less time with their children (Raymo et al. 2014), and report that their children have more health problems and perform less well in school (Raymo 2016). To a large degree, these disadvantages are explained by the relatively high levels of economic deprivation among single-mother families. These results are consistent with compelling qualitative evidence of the difficulties faced by single mothers and their children (Abe 2008) and suggest that divorce and single parenthood is a particularly relevant mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage as suggested by research on diverging destinies. Because the National Fertility Survey does not provide sufficient information to consistently identify single mothers across time, we do not include analyses of this outcome in Chap. 3.

 
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