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Lone Parents: The Numbers in the USA and in Germany

Reports by the US Census Bureau, that the number of lone fathers increased by 75%, are making the rounds and led many journalists to write about them, even though what they wrote about is a somewhat dimensionless number without a solid foundation — 75 percent of an unspecified quantity is still an unspecified quantity.

What is not mentioned much or not at all by any of the news spreaders is by how many percent the number of single mothers increased over the same interval.

All of that matters little, because percentages based on individual sectors in a sample population are virtually meaningless, unless they have a common denominator, so that the relative trends in the sizes of the individual sectors can be compared.

A little time should be spent figuring that out from the total numbers that surely must be buried somewhere in the census reports, but what is the use. The total numbers for each sector are virtually meaningless. The Census Bureau lumped together many men (e.g.: uncles, grandfathers) with the number of natural fathers, apparently without identifying the numbers for those individual groups.

The questions are: How many lone, natural fathers are there? How many of them were there over the years? What are the corresponding, far, far larger numbers over the years for lone, biological mothers?  Year after year we hear about massive increases in the numbers of lone fathers, especially those who are being awarded child custody.  Yet, the proportions of fathers and mothers who are being awarded child custody steadily remain in the order of 15 percent vs. 85 percent, respectively.

Still, it appears that the rumours of the death of the traditional nuclear family are vastly exaggerated. There is still some life left in the foundation of civilization. More importantly, contrary to the wishes of the minuscule number of social engineers who want to make society over in "her" image, a large majority of the general population (persistently in the 65% to 80% range in general population surveys) wishes that the traditional nuclear family should remain alive and well.

John Leo, in writing for Townhall.com, reports on analyses by some people who took a closer look at some of the Census numbers with respect to demographic trends relating to families. Their concerns are far more optimistic than those expressed in the media feeding frenzy regarding the decline of the vanishing nuclear family.

They report that since the early 1990s, abortions are down (one third), teen pregnancies are down (19%), and marriages are up in some population sectors. Marriages are up by a considerable margin in the black communities (11.8% more children living with two parents) and noticeably in the Hispanic sector of the population. Correspondingly, the numbers of children looked after by single mothers has actually fallen (by 8% over five years in the general population and by 11.8% in the black population sector), with the overall rate of increase in the number of marriage break-ups having come to a halt.

John Leo asks why those astounding and remarkable facts didn't make the news and speculates that there is a good chance that within a week or so Time Magazine may be running headlines that state: "I Do, I Do -- Are Marriage and the Nuclear Family Making a Comeback?" (The news about marriage is not what you think; for more background on the weird and consistently inconsistent family statistics produced by the US Census Bureau, you should also have a look at "Funny Numbers Pervade Census Data," by John Leo) 

Now there are reports from Germany that identify demographic trends relating to the family there. Indicators are similar to those reported in the media feeding frenzy on the decline of the nuclear family in the US, and so, apparently, are the irrational and misleading assumptions used in compiling and reporting them. Does that make it an international conspiracy to mislead the general public? Quite likely, unless professional statisticians do it deliberately, they can't possibly be so ignorant as to persistently feed us false or misleading information by accident.

At least you have to give the European statisticians credit for identifying a bit more than meaningless percentages. They also talk about real numbers. For what they are worth, here they are:

More and more lone fathers

As reported by the German Federal Office for Statistics, as of May 2000, there were 332,000 lone fathers with children under 18 years in Germany. That is just short of two-thirds (63%) more than there were in April 1991 (204,000). In the same time frame the number of lone mothers increased by just short of one-third (31%) to 1.7 million (1991: 1.3 million). In May 2000 there were therefore five times as many lone mothers who raised children than there were lone fathers. That is indicated by the results of the Micro Census, Europe-wide the largest household survey concerning personal- and career circumstances in Germany.

Overall, in Germany, as of May 2000 more than 2.8 million minor children grew up in the care of a lone parent, of those, 436,000 (15%) with a father and 2.4 million (85%) with a mother. In interpreting these statistics it must be considered that "lone parent" includes also those who may be partners in non-marital relationships.

[Translated from the source: Vaeterhilfe Newsletter, Fri. June 22, 2001; Germany has a population of 81 million. —WHS]

There you have it. In Germany, the percentage of lone fathers increased from 13.6% of all lone parents in 1991 to 19.5% in the year 2000. That is still a substantial increase of 43.4% in the percent figure for lone fathers, but, expressed as a percentage of all lone parents, it is no more than a meager 5.9% increase in the proportion of lone fathers over a ten-year interval.  It is said so much easier with pictures than with words, much easier understood, far more objective and far less likely to be subject to deliberate distortions.  Here is the picture:

Lone-parents, Germany (1991, 2000)

The change amounts to an average increase of 0.057% per year in the number of lone fathers expressed as a percentage of all lone parents in the two years, ten years apart. At that rate of increase and with respect to child custody, lone fathers in Germany will reach parity with lone mothers in about 71 years.

It stands to reason that the situation in the US or any other developed nation is no better than that. It is not likely that at that glacial rate of progress any of us will get to see that divorced fathers will have rights that are equal to those of divorced mothers. I would have to live to be 136 years old to see it. I can't hold my breath for that long, can you, can our children and grandchildren?

Don't forget that we are quite literally talking about a matter of life and death for our children. Compared to children brought up in the care of two married biological parents, children in the care of single mothers are 33 times more likely to be seriously injured and 73 times more likely to be killed. (Heritage Foundation

Posted 2001 06 22