One child in four in single-parent home

04:43, Apr 30 2011

New Zealand has the third-highest rate of children living in single-parent homes, an OECD study says.

This means nearly one in four Kiwi children are growing up in single-parent homes as more marriages break up and single women choose to enter motherhood on their own.

Of 27 industrialised countries, New Zealand ranked third in the Doing Better for Families study, with 23.7 per cent of children living in a one-parent household, compared with the 14.9 per cent average across all countries. The United States ranked first with 25.9 per cent and Ireland was second with 24.3 per cent.

Children's Commissioner John Angus said Kiwi children were four times more likely to be living under the poverty line if they were being raised by a single parent.

New Zealand's child poverty rate, at 12.2 per cent, is nearly on a par with the OECD average. Child poverty includes going hungry and living in poor housing that can lead to poor health.

At the end of March, 113,000 people were receiving a domestic purposes benefit, of whom 88 per cent were women.

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The OECD said New Zealand could do more to support sole parents into fulltime work through the provision of quality childcare. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, herself a single mother, said the Government was focusing on this.

"No parent wants their child to spend a life in poverty, but the fact is that children whose parents are working have more opportunities and better health and education than those from benefit-dependent households."

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said children raised by married parents were able to provide the best opportunities for children. "We've tried to delude ourselves that family structure doesn't make a difference, but it does."

Meanwhile, more single professional women were choosing to become mothers using sperm donors because of increased fears about their biological clock ticking, Fertility Associates Wellington medical director Andrew Murray said. "Anecdotally, I would say that there is an increased number of women at least looking at the option of starting a family on their own."

The introduction two years ago of a test measuring women's egg reserves had prompted at least three Wellington women a month to investigate single motherhood, Dr Murray said.

Birthright national manager John Donaghy said there were about 219,000 single-parent families in New Zealand, most of whom were middle-aged.

"Unfortunately there are many people who basically poke at the 18-year-old person on the DPB who is seen as a weight on the rest of society, but actually they're a minority."

In March, 46 per cent of single parents were aged 25 to 39, and 20 per cent were aged 18 to 24.

Work testing of sole parents on a benefit once their youngest child turns six was introduced by the Government in September.

Sons missing out on extras  'huge burden'

The saddest thing about being a single parent is watching your children miss out, Lower Hutt mother Lyn Dalton says.

The burden of not being able to afford extracurricular activities such as swimming and music lessons for her sons, aged nine and 12, is huge, the 44-year-old says.

"The hardest thing would be laying in bed at night alone and trying to figure money out and what's best for your children."

Miss Dalton says it is "incredibly sad" that one in four New Zealand children live in a solo-parent household. "These kids really need their dads, they really need their two parents."

She did not choose to be a single mother; instead, she and her former partner "just didn't get along".

However, the father of her children is still part of their lives.

Miss Dalton stopped work last year to home-school her 12-year-old, who has learning difficulties. "It's a very hard job to do and I'm grateful that I have the opportunity to be able to teach my child at home, thanks to the DPB."

The Dominion Post