ERIC Identifier: ED296123
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Single Parents: Career-Related Issues and Needs. ERIC Digest
Today, 1 of every 4 families with children under the age of 18 is a
single-parent family, up from 1 of every 10 in 1970. Nearly 60 percent of all
children born in 1986 may spend 1 year or longer in a single-parent family
before reaching age 18 (Norton and Glick, 1986). Clearly a growing phenomenon,
the single-parent family is often subject to extreme economic problems: single
parents need special assistance with career development and vocational
preparation. This digest explores the nature of single parenthood and the
special preemployment and employment needs of distinct types of single-parent
families, highlighting the characteristics of effective career development
programs to meet those needs.
THE NATURE OF SINGLE PARENTHOOD
Single parents commonly experience difficulties with role identity. Some
social stigma is still attached to single-parent status, regardless of how it
was acquired. For single mothers, development of positive role identity is often
hampered by their inability to support their families financially. Single
parents often experience role strain from attempting to balance wage- earner and
Lack of formal education and consequently of job skills limits access to
occupations that provide enough income for an acceptable standard of living.
Women are additionally hindered by socialization into traditionally female
occupations that are low paying, perpetuating the cycle of poverty (Burge,
Poverty is persistently linked with single-parent households, especially
those headed by women. Such families are the poorest of all major demographic
groups in the United States (Garfinkel and McLanahan, 1986). Wage differences
between men and women arising from lack of labor and market preparation or
experience or from discrimination, reinforce low-income status.
Although child care is an issue for all parents, an overwhelming number of
single parents cannot afford high-quality day care--a major barrier to attending
career development and skills training programs as well as to maintaining
Among the solutions to these problems are changes in public policy and public
attitudes toward single-parent families and more adequate financial support and
child-care systems. Another key is career development--in addition to employment
and economic security, career education can improve the physical and emotional
well-being of participants (Burge, 1987).
TYPES OF SINGLE PARENTS
The vast majority of single-parent families are low-income families
consisting of a mother and her young children, characterized by a high
percentage of minority representation and relatively little formal education.
Three major subgroups of one-parent families have also been identified:
displaced homemakers, adolescent mothers, and single fathers (Burge, 1987).
Marital dissolution drastically reduces the new single-parent family's
available income. Displaced homemakers are at an additional disadvantage because
they often have little or no employment history, obsolete training or skills,
low self-esteem, and external locus of control.
Each year in the United States, 1 in 10 teenage girls becomes pregnant. This
vast subgroup of single parents faces many obstacles to self-sufficiency, such
as lack of education, job readiness, and emotional maturity. Their crucial need
to complete their education and achieve employment goals is complicated by their
immediate needs for food, housing, child care, and emotional support (Time for
Although they generally have a more healthy economic status than their female
counterparts, single fathers often find their sole child-rearing role
conflicting with work expectations. They also find themselves filling social
roles for which they are not prepared.
CAREER DEVELOPMENT NEEDS OF SINGLE PARENTS
As the sole support of their families, single parents are concerned with
obtaining a good job and achieving economic independence. However, job training
and job placement can be effective in the long run only if other needs are also
addressed. Program developers should consider the following needs:
-Emotional support (counseling, peer groups, assistance with developing
-Basic skills instruction (especially literacy skills)
-Outreach and recruitment
-Analysis of the role of gender in occupational choice
-The challenges of combining work and family roles
-Nontraditional job skills
CAREER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
Meeting the needs of the many types of one-parent families is a major social
challenge. Program developers must offer a full range of services, from
occupational exploration to job search assistance. Following are some examples
of types of career development programs for single parents (Burge, 1987).
HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT PREVENTION PROGRAMS
Pregnant teens and teen parents are special targets for dropout prevention.
Effective programs should include basic skills as well as occupational
preparation, accurate information and guidance related to sexuality and family
planning, prenatal and family life instruction, and support networks of teachers
and peers who can assist with low self-esteem, time and stress management, and
long- and short-term goal setting. Pregnant teens and teen parents can
participate in alternative high school programs or be mainstreamed in regular
ESTABLISHED EDUCATION SITES
Many single parents may feel more comfortable in the adult education
atmosphere provided in area vocational centers and community colleges. These
established sites already offer such services as basic literacy instruction,
personal and career counseling, assistance for reentry students, and job
placement. Child-care centers at these sites would overcome one of the major
barriers for single parents returning to school.
NETWORKS AND NEWSLETTERS
Single parents frequently do not use the resources available to them, due to
the extensive time and effort needed to locate resources or to discouraging past
experiences (Time for Transition, 1985). Support and referral networks can help
single parents identify community agencies that offer assistance with legal
problems, health care, emergency funds, housing, shelter and protection,
substance abuse, and other matters. Such networks can also provide advice on
determining eligibility, meeting requirements, and negotiating for services with
Newsletters are an inexpensive strategy for communicating with, educating,
and supporting single parents. They can be used to supplement both group or
individual career development activities. Work, homemaking, and child care
demands often cause problems with attendance at formal programs, making
newsletters an effective outreach technique.
FEDERALLY FUNDED PROGRAMS
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act emphasizes support of increased
vocational education opportunities for displaced homemakers and single parents,
among other groups. Many sites in Florida have used Perkins Act funding for
projects ranging from balancing family life, education, and employment to
increasing awareness of nontraditional careers, achieving business ownership,
and assisting with day care and sick child care. (The ERIC database contains
descriptions of many Florida programs. See ED 285 039-049 and ED 285 988-999.)
Title II-A of the Job Training Partnership Act provides assistance to persons
who have experienced barriers to employment, including displaced homemakers,
single heads of household, and teenage parents. Funding for support services can
be used for child care to increase participation. In addition, the 6 percent
set-aside provides incentive grants for serving the special needs of these
In addition to developing effective programs, career educators can be
advocates for public policy designed to assist single parents. Policy changes
are needed in the areas of employment discrimination, recognition of
nontraditional roles, government and employer support of child care, pay equity,
social services for potential teen single parents, and work environment
alternatives. In short, policies that establish an equitable educational and
economic climate for both sexes and all ethnic groups as well as recognition of
single-parent families as a viable family form will benefit not only these
families but society as a whole.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Burge, Penny L. CAREER DEVELOPMENT OF SINGLE PARENTS. Information Series no.
324. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career, and Vocational Education.
The National Center for Research in Vocational Education. The Ohio State
University, 1987. ED 290 934.
Garfinkel, Irwin, and Sara S. McLanahan. SINGLE MOTHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN: A
NEW AMERICAN DILEMMA. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 1986.
Norton, A. J., and P. C. Glick. "One Parent Families: A Social and Economic
Profile." FAMILY RELATIONS 35 (1986): 9-17.
Time for Transition. TEENAGE PARENTS AND EMPLOYMENT. New York, NY: National
Child Labor Committee, 1985. ED 282 096.