Part of a new survey of what the research literature says about father-headed households. Relevant findings are highlighted in bold.
A Single Father's Shopping Bag
Purchasing Decisions in Single-Father Families
Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest
Institute for Children and Poverty, New York, email@example.com
Using data from the 1980 to 2003 panels of the Consumer Expenditure Survey, this article examines purchasing decisions in father-headed single-parent families. Single-father expenditures are compared to both married-parent expenditures and single-mother expenditures on 17 broad categories of household-level goods and services. Multivariate analysis finds that single fathers' consumption choices differ from bundles within married-parent households and single-mother households. Compared to married parents, single fathers spend more on food away from home, alcohol, and tobacco products and spend less on publications, toys, and children's education. Single fathers differ from single mothers by spending more on food away from home, alcohol, and tobacco products and less on books and children's education.
Key Words: single fathers • expenditures • investments in children • consumption bundles
This version was published on May 1, 2009
Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 30, No. 5, 605-622 (2009)
Summary of Findings
-Single mothers spend a smaller share than single fathers on food away from home, alcohol and tobacco, business products, and recreation and sports. In contrast, mothers spend a greater
share on food at home, utilities, domestic services, clothing, toiletries, books, and children’s education compared to single fathers. Specifically, single mothers spend 16% and 47% less on food away from home and alcohol and tobacco, respectively. Furthermore, single mothers spend a 33% greater share and an 82% greater share of their budget than single fathers on books and children’s education, respectively.
- In terms of levels, single fathers are spending more than married families (about US$140) but are spending almost US$400 more than single mothers on alcohol and tobacco products. These level differences in terms of actual potential alcohol consumption amount to a difference of almost, US$3 and almost US$8 per week over the course of a year, and the difference between single fathers and single mothers equals almost one half of a standard deviation for the entire sample (data not shown). Furthermore, the share analysis indicates that not only are single fathers spending more on tobacco and alcohol, but they also budget a greater proportion of their total expenditure on these products. These consumption differences can be detrimental to child health in several distinct ways, although it should be noted that one cannot determine whether this relatively larger alcohol share reflects a higher quantity versus quality of alcohol. This could be indicative of single fathers substituting alcohol and tobacco for other goods that may be better for children, specifically “investing” their expenditure decisions in an adult good, and may be trading off investment in child-specific goods as a result....Additionally, if adult goods are being consumed outside the home, perhaps single fathers are spending less time caretaking and monitoring their children. This purchasing decision may mirror the interpersonal resource differences Downey (1994) finds, where single fathers engage in less talk about the child’s day because they are not at home with the child. It also suggests a potential reason Downey et al. (1998) find that children from single-father homes are less well behaved, contradicting the notion that fathers are disciplinarians, because single fathers are not home as much.
- Single fathers are making very different food purchases than heads of other families. Single fathers in general are spending a greater share of their total nonmedical expenditures on food consumed away from home compared to both single mothers and married parents (also see Ziol-Guest, DeLeire, & Kalil, 2006). If these purchases are substituting for food prepared in the home, this finding raises concerns for children’s health and well-being. Restaurant portion sizes have increased, with the greatest increases in food consumed at fast food establishments (Nielsen & Popkin, 2003), and often exceed Food and Drug Administration and USDA standard portion sizes (Young & Nestle, 2002). Furthermore, food consumed outside the home has higher fat density and lower fiber and calcium density compared to foods prepared in the home (Lin, Guthrie, & Blaylock, 1996).
-Single fathers are spending significantly less on children’s education expenses, both in terms of levels and of shares of total expenditures (only vs. single mothers). All of the families in the sample reside with their own children under 18, so families should be making purchases related to children’s education that include expenditures on nursery, elementary, and secondary education. However, single fathers are not choosing to invest as much money in education as other family structures (see also DeLeire & Kalil, 2005, for similar findings on cohabitation).There could be many reasons for these choices. Single fathers might be more likely to send their children to public schools that may be less costly. Single fathers may also be less likely to send their children to day care or nursery schools and rather purchase babysitting care in the home (Parke, 1996), which serves as preschool care, or find family members to care for children during the day. If the expenditures on education are correlated with better educational resources, children residing with single fathers may be receiving less quality of education compared to other family types. This poorer quality
education and children’s learning environment could translate into lower test scores and educational experiences (Bradley & Corwyn, 2004).
-Single fathers spend a smaller level and share of expenditure on publications and toys compared to married parents and a smaller level and share of expenditure on books compared to single mothers. The quality of cognitive and emotional stimulation and the presence of educationally related items in the home are correlated with school readiness and cognitive outcomes and have a positive impact on years of education attained by the child (Teachman, 1987). That single fathers are spending less on items that may be beneficial to child cognitive development may be measuring their preferences for their children’s educational attainment. Given the differences in the prior literature on educational outcomes for children in single-father families (Downey et al., 1998), these purchasing decisions might be quite important for future child well-being.