In Defense of Single-Parent Families

In Defense of Single-Parent Families


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Single-parent families succeed. Within these families children thrive, develop, and grow, just as they do in a variety of family structures. Tragically, they must do so in the face of powerful legal and social stigma that works to undermine them.

As Nancy E. Dowd argues in this bold and original book, the justifications for stigmatizing single-parent families are founded largely on myths, myths used to rationalize harshly punitive social policies. Children, in increasing numbers, bear the brunt of those policies. In this generation, more than two-thirds of all children will spend some time in a single-parent family before reaching age 18. The damage done in the name of justified stigma, therefore, harms a great many children.

Dowd details the primary justifications for stigmatizing single-parent families, marshalling an impressive array of resources about single parents that portray a very different picture of these families. She describes them in all their forms, with particular attention to the differential treatment given never-married and divorced single parents, and to the impact of gender, race, and class. Emphasizing that all families face significant conflicts between work and family responsibilities, Dowd argues many two-parent families, in fact, function as single-parent caregiving households. The success or failure of families, she contends, has little to do with form. Many of the problems faced by single-parent families mirror problems faced by all families.

Illustrating the harmful impact of current laws concerning divorce, welfare, and employment, Dowd makes a powerful case for centering policy around the welfare and equality of all children. A thought-provoking examination of the stereotypes, realities and possibilities of single-parent families, In Defense of Single-Parent Families asks us to consider the true purpose or goal of a family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814718698
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 12/01/1996
Pages: 222
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nancy Dowd
is Professor and David Levin Chair in Family Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is the editor of the Families, Law and Society series at NYU Press, and author or editor of numerous books, including A New Juvenile Justice System (NYU 2015).

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A strong argument in favor of public support for needy families bringing up young children, particularly those where single parents are the sole caretakers. . . . A thoughtful analysis of a serious problem in this country; recommended for professionals, academics, and the public."

-Library Journal,

"Dowd does a good job of explaining how discrimination in the workplace and the devaluation of those who provide child care works against the single parent. . . . Should provoke lively classroom discussion."


"If there is a less-popular cause in this country than single-parent families, it doesn't come readily to mind. But Dowd presents a very different view of single-parent families as pioneers in the development of nonpatriarchal family structures, arguing that the perceived inferiority of single-parent families has more to do with bias and poverty than the lack of a male figure, and that we need legal change to increase employment, income and community support."

-National Law Journal

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