Question of the week: What are the effects of divorce on low-income families?


Recently I posted an article about how divorce affects children in high-income families. In many areas they fare worse than children in low-income families. However, children in low-income families have their issues too.

Divorce tends to be cyclical in many families. Low-income families have been experiencing divorce longer than high-income families. Many of these adult children of divorce from low-income families are no longer committing to marriage. They are more likely to cohabit and end up not marrying at all or later in life. In many families this means children have a constant stream of potential stepparents coming and going in the child’s life.

Children in these situations don’t have an opportunity to see how to work on conflict resolution with one another. They don’t have exposure to emotionally healthy adult relationships or to what a healthy, loving marriage should look like.

Parental separation is more common among lower-income families, says Rebecca Ryan, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University. In a report from Georgetown University we read, “Parents and children may perceive family changes as more normative, more predictable, and, thus, less stressful.” In other words they are more used to all the issues of the changes that take place when a parent leaves the family.

Other issues in low-income situations

Many of these issues are based on my own experience of the past 30 years working with and ministering to children in single-parent homes.

  • Children are left on their own more due to single parent having to work long hours just to make ends meet.
  • Children live in child care or at babysitters so they aren’t as exposed to family life.
  • May not have as much contact with extended family such as grandparents due to distance and travel expenses.
  • Children in low-income families are less likely to have constant contact with both parents and less likely to have quality time with each parent.
  • Parents in low-income families more likely to argue and disagree with each other. This could be due the financial restraint in which both parents live.
  • Many low-income single parents will share living quarters with another single parent. This mean living in overcrowded quarters.
  • Many children living in low-income apartments have no decent place to play.
  • Low income sometimes means poor nutrition.
  • Due to stress, lack of good eating habits, and being deprived of the kinds of foods a child needs for healthy bodies, children experience more illnesses and health issues.
  • Parents on low paying jobs will be less likely to take off work to take their children to the doctor. Many times it means loss of income and loss of vacation days, and some single parents will use their own sick days to take their children to a health care provider.
  • Depending on the state in which the single parent lives, they may not have access to health insurance. Even though we now have universal health care in the US, we still have some single parents who can’t qualify for ACA or Medicaid. They get lost in between the two health care provisions. Parents who end up sick are not as good as caring for their children as a sick parent who is able to access a health care provider and the medications needed to survive an illness.
  • Less likely to receive child support or struggle getting child support payments.
  • They are more likely to get a “modification of child support” since low-income parents frequently change or lose their jobs.
  • Children are not as likely to attend church on a regular basis. Some research shows that children who attend church are more likely to have a positive moral compass and have better outcomes regarding grades, school attainment, greater religious socialization, and higher levels of self-control, self-coping skills, and self-esteem.

Public assistance

Low-income single parents are more likely to file for government assistance. Once accessing several forms of assistance, it sometimes becomes difficult to break free of the assistance. I’m not saying single parents shouldn’t access help, but they need to be cautious of becoming dependent on taking advantage of several assistance programs.

Government programs:

  • Assistance with food: EBT (Food Stamps)
  • Assistance with insurance: Medicaid (A federally funded insurance for low-income families. Varies from state to state)
  • Assistance for mothers with infants: WIC (Women Infant Children)
  • Assistance with housing: Low Income Housing
  • Childcare assistance (depends on the state where a single parent lives)


Children in low-income families are more affected by the quality of the home environment than the family structure. If there is no home life, then a child’s social and emotional well-being suffers. For children in low-income families, their home life may be almost non-existent as the single parent works long hours or dates trying to find someone to help supplement the income and help discipline the children.

These children need the church and the church family to supplement and help with hands-on care and support.

What does your church do to support the low-income single parent?






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