The study, published today [20 November] in the journal Child Development, found children who lived with a single mother before age 11 had lower verbal ability than children whose parents stayed together.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, the University of Bath and the Universidad de Alcalá in Spain have shown that, while single motherhood has become much more common, it still has negative consequences for children’s attainment because it reduces the financial resources available to them.

The results show that income, home ownership and parents’ aspirations are associated with higher attainment, while financial hardship and maternal depression are associated with worse outcomes.

Children who lived with a single mother had lower incomes and were less likely to live in owner-occupied accommodation than those whose parents remained together. They found few differences in the parenting behavior of single mothers and those in couples, and this could not explain differences in children’s attainments.

Researchers used data from three large, nationally representative studies of British children born in 1958, 1970, and 2000, each with information on more than 10,000 children. A measure for verbal ability – a good marker for general academic ability - was available for each of the cohorts, allowing changes over time to be examined.

Children's cognitive ability is strongly related to a range of later life outcomes, including the likelihood of dropping out of school, earnings, occupational attainment, crime, substance abuse, and mental health.

For children born in 2000, the age at which their parents separated mattered to their attainment - those whose parents separated before they were seven had lower attainment than their peers in two-parent families. For example, an individual who would have been ranked 50th out of 100 children on the test was instead ranked 44th due to the lower income associated with being raised by a single mother.

But those whose parents separated when they were between seven and 11 showed no significant effect on their attainment. This was because by 2000, the negative economic effects of parental separation were much smaller for those whose parents separated when they were of school age.

This pattern differs from that of children born in 1958 or 1970, for whom parental separation had a similarly negative effect on children's attainment regardless of the age at which their parents separated.

The findings have important implications for policy makers as they suggest supporting the incomes of single-mother families, and in particular those with very young children, would help address the attainment gap.

Susan Harkness, Professor of Public Policy in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, led the study and said: "Our study shows that almost all of the relationships between single motherhood and negative consequences for children's cognitive attainment can be explained by families’ reduced economic circumstances.

"Although single motherhood has become much more common in the UK, deficits associated with parenting - as opposed to reduced economic circumstances - have all but disappeared over the last 40 years."

Over the last 60 years, the percentage of children in the United Kingdom living in homes headed by a single mother has risen steadily. Between 1971 and 1998 the share of children in single parent families tripled from seven per cent to 22 per cent before stabilising.

The researchers identified few differences in the parenting behaviour of single- and two-parent families for children born in 2000, which wasn’t the case for those born in 1958.

Study co-author Paul Gregg, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Bath, said: "Overall, our findings suggest two policy responses in the UK: supporting the incomes of single-parent families, particularly those with very young children, and addressing the growing gap in attainment between all children whose parents have adverse economic characteristics, whether partnered or not."

The study was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


'The Rise in Single-Mother Families and Children's Cognitive Development: Evidence from Three British Birth Cohorts', by S. Harkness, M.F. Salgado, and P. Gregg in Child Development.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page