International Research: Single Parent Families in France and the United States


In 1982, the number of French single parent families hovered around 10.2%, and jumped to an estimated 29% by 2016. Similarly, in 1982 the U.S number of single parent families was 12.3%, with a jump to 25% by 2016. With similar demographics regarding single parent families, the two similar nations hold contrasting welfare programs respective to their fields. To find solutions to end household inequalities within a society, one must first define the problems at hand and recognize possible resolutions. On account of cultural normalities, governmental structure, and varying levels of economic reform, single-parenting within France and the United States has evolved in notably different manners whilst stemming from modern nations with relatively similar beginnings. This article will serve to briefly explore the causes (and effects) of the socioeconomic differences between single-parent families in France and the United States. 

Single parents have more than tripled as a share of American households since 1960. Two major demographic trends can be identified as the underlying causes for this rise in single parenthood over the past several decades: an augmentation of births out of wedlock and divorce rate. Today one-third of all births in the U.S occur out of wedlock. Single-parent families are also brought on by the death of a parent, but widowhood has been a relatively minor factor for the past decades.

Yet despite a clear shift in its family structures, American society and its political leaders seem incapable of adaptation. The American government has historically striven to encourage the orthodox heterosexual two-parent family structure, leaving little room for the growing minorities of LGBT, unmarried, divorced, widowed families. The aforementioned long-term rise in divorce and ultimately single parenting has led some policymakers to seek “appropriate” interventions to strengthen America’s nuclear families. Since the mid-1990s, lawmakers have made reducing the number of single-parent families, particularly those formed via teenage pregnancy, a prominent focus of federal and state welfare legislation. Federal welfare reform laws passed in 1996 would reward states for lowering out-of-wedlock births. In 1999 Oklahoma’s governor Frank Keating announced a $10 million initiative to reduce his state’s divorce rate by one-third by 2010. This proposal sought to end divorce rather than help families who were in need at the time. Within the following 15 years, more than $70 million in federal allocations towards the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) would be spent on the Marriage Initiative proposal. The initiative was halted in the fall of 2016 as the state of Oklahoma saw no lowering in divorce rates. Even Kentucky senator Rand Paul went so far as to blame the 2015 protests in Baltimore on “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society”. This misplacement of national values, as seen in poor state budgeting, shows America’s idealism taking priority over day to day life.

To cater to the varying familial structures of the modern world, many nations recognize and understand the need for and benefits of generous family leave policies. Some European countries offer significant subsidies for new parents in need of care- these efforts have impacted women’s workforce participation in those respective countries; for instance, in the Netherlands, women’s workforce participation increased by 3.3 percent, and the number of hours worked by 6.6 percent upon providing extended maternal leave.

In France, childcare subsidy programs have become more simplified- shifting from 4 tiers to 3 whilst increasing the amount of subsidized coverage for the nation’s low-income families. Research conducted at the time of this welfare-expansion demonstrates that this reform led to a significant increase in use of paid childcare as well as an increase in maternal labor participation (the authors of said research suggest families may have exchanged informal care situations for paid programs).

To continue encouraging families to seek childcare outside the home, the complément mode de garde (CMG) is paid to a couple or parent using the services of a registered childminder or a childminder in the home to care for a child under age of 6. It is awarded either as a separate benefit or, if the parent fulfills the income conditions, on top of basic federal allowance. This benefit includes: up to 85% coverage of childcare costs, or total coverage of employer’s contributions if employing a registered childminder (nanny/babysitter). This role of childminder is a well-paying and respected job, largely on account of government encouragement. By expanding childcare coverage to all families, the French workforce would increase in numbers and productivity as a direct result.

In speaking with several Picardie adults, a general consensus was formed- and phrased eloquently by M Rogez (a teacher of economics), “the French, like many Europeans, do not wish to embrace the same laws of the U.S. labor force, and while that may mean that we accept a higher unemployment level than what it could be- at least our people are taken care of without doubt”.

The United States is a nation that founded itself on the advocation for personal freedom and independence. As a result, there exists no culture of public service or community dependence. Many services which are public and governmentally-funded in France are instead offered by private, high-profiting companies or not offered at all in the United States- specifically subsidized childcare, healthcare, and paid maternity leave. These 3 aforementioned traits come to define the socioeconomic welfare of single parent families, regardless of their nationality. In addressing these issues, specifically regarding their prevalence in single parent families, a nation can begin to close the gap between households of differing structure. A successful nation must see equality on all fronts- leaving no room for disparity.



Bettendorf, Leon J.h., Egbert L.w. Jongen, and Paul Muller. “Childcare subsidies and labour supply — Evidence from a large Dutch reform.” Labour Economics 36 (2015): 112-23.

Joseph, Olivier. “The economic impact of taking short parental leave: Evaluation of a French reform.” Labor Economics, December 2013, 63-75.

OECD (1994), “The OECD Jobs Study, Evidence and Explanations,” vols. 1 and 2, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.