Shifting Childrearing to Single Mothers: Results from 17 Western Countries



We investigate how recent changes in the Western family have affected childhood living arrangements. For 17 developed countries, we use multistate life table techniques to estimate childhood trajectories of coresi-dence with biological fathers versus other maternal partners. In all countries childhood exposure to single parenting is more often caused by parental separation than out-of-partnership childbearing. Both exposure to single parenting and expectancy of childhood spent with a single non-cohabiting mother vary widely across countries, with the United States exhibiting the highest levels of each at early 1990s rates. The greatest international variations concern parental cohabitation—its prevalence, durability, and the degree to which its increase has compensated for a decrease in the expectancy of childhood spent with married parents. Overall, we find little evidence of international convergence in childrearing arrangements, except that in countries where parental marriage has declined over time, childrearing has predominantly shifted to single mothers.