Globe and Mail

Lone-parent families: Comparing the '90s and the '30s

Thursday, February 18, 1999
Edited by Philip Jackman

We tend to regard the prevalence of single-parent families as a comparatively modern phenomenon. It's not.

While 14.5 per cent of today's families are headed by a single parent (83 per cent by a woman) the figure in 1931 wasn't much different: 13 per cent.

The all-time low was 8.2 per cent in 1966.

Today, most lone parents are separated, divorced or are unmarried mothers. The story in 1931 was very different.

In those days, divorce carried a stigma and most single parents were widows or widowers.

One reason for this was the numbers of fathers killed during the First World War. Another was the higher figures for women who died in childbirth. Additional reasons included more men dying in accidents on the farm and in the factories, plus higher death rates from disease for both sexes.

"Lone-parent families have been around for a long time and we as a society always face the obligation of finding ways to support them," says Robert Glossop, executive director of programs and research at the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa.

"In the past, what often happened was that the widow or widower would return to live at home with their parents or their in-laws. They received support informally from the community through the church and so forth.

"Today, we expect -- and I think legitimately so -- that lone-parent families are going to be able to maintain their own independent households. So, many of them do in fact become charges to the state through social assistance."

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