Lone Parenthood Project - The multiple paths of lone parenthood : Pathway diversity and latent vulnerability


The growing complexity of family forms affects an increasing number of people experiencing lone-parenthood at some point in their personal trajectory. Over the past three decades, their profiles have indeed become more diverse. The data analysis carried out in the framework of the project shows that while in the past lone-parenthood mainly concerned widows and, more rarely, young mothers without a partner, today it is mainly made up of divorced or separated women and, to some extent, women who decide to have children alone. During the same three decades, the average duration of lone-parenthood has decreased significantly, due to a very high rate of re-parenting. Added to this already complex picture of lone-parenthood are the increasingly common situations of alternating custody where both parents share a significant portion of the time with the children but separately from each other (Bernardi, Mortelmans, & Larenza, (2018).

As the results of the longitudinal study in French-speaking Switzerland show, the transition to lone-parenthood is often a non-linear and evolutionary process. Its beginning and sometimes even its end are difficult to identify precisely by the persons concerned, who express strong ambivalence in their relationships with their (former) partner(s) and in their family situation (Bernardi & Larenza, 2018). Lone-parenthood is therefore a dynamic process that cannot easily be locked into one-dimensional and fixed definitions. This fluidity of pathways challenges social policies aimed at reducing social inequalities between children from family breakdowns and other children.

Indeed, lone parent families remain a category more likely to experience precariousness. More specifically, the risks appear especially when several factors combine: mother's youth, lack of training, unemployment, health problems (of the children or the mother). Lone-parenthood is thus at the intersection of gender and class inequalities, these are sometimes exacerbated by social structures. The poor integration of women into the labour market and the difficulty of reconciling employment and family life significantly increase the risk of having to resort to social assistance. The weakness of work-life balance policies in Switzerland represents an additional source of stress for lone parents, who have no choice but to assume financial and childcare responsibilities alone (Struffolino & Bernardi, 2017).

Publications for this sub-project