Children raised in single parent households are twice as likely to misbehave as those in traditional two-parent families, according to a major new study.
The study also warned that children with younger mothers had a “much more difficult start in life”. And the researchers have called for more to be done to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies.
The new research revealed that twelve per cent of children raised in single parent households displayed serious behavioural problems by the age of seven. This figure rose to 15 per cent for stepchildren.
By contrast just six per cent of the children raised by both their natural parents showed the same behavioural problems.
These figures come from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking around 14,000 children born between 2000 and 2002.
For the study parents were asked to rate different aspects of their children’s behaviour and the answers were then converted into scores to categorise their behaviour.
Academics have said that more research is needed into the relationship between single parents and children’s behaviour.
A separate analysis of the Study’s data examined the effect of mothers’ age on children’s early development.
It found that seven-year-old children with mothers aged under 30 had had to cope with “far more upheaval” than others whose mothers were over 40.
And it also showed that the children with younger mothers were seven times as likely to have stepfathers, and more than twice as likely to be living in a lone-mother family.
Lisa Calderwood, a researcher from the Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, said: “Living apart from natural fathers can be associated with poverty and negative outcomes for children.
“As these experiences are particularly concentrated among children of young mothers these findings provide support for policies aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy.”
The significant impact of divorce and family disruption on children’s lives was exposed in results from the National Child Development Study in 2008.
A researcher involved with the study, Kathleen Kiernan, said: “Children from disrupted families tend to do less well in school and subsequent careers than their peers. They are also more likely to experience the break-up of their own partnerships.”
And in April 2008 a report from The Good Childhood Inquiry warned that family breakdown is a major cause of harm to children’s mental health.
One of the report’s authors, Stephen Scott, Professor of Child Health and Behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, drew attention to the harmful impact of family breakdown on children.
He said: “It is as much about the problems arising from family breakdown as the event itself. Young people don’t like being in different homes on different days of the week and get upset by strife between their parents.”
Also in 2008 results from the Millennium Cohort Study revealed that one in four children of cohabiting parents suffer family breakdown before they start school at the age of five.
This was compared with just one in ten children of married parents who experience a divorce or separation by the same stage.