Fishing & Boating News

The Myth of the Single-Parent Household

by: Mark Damian Duda,

(Friday, August 15,1997 - ) (This article is re-printed with permission from FTTN(Fishing Tackle Trade News) PO Box 370 - Camden, ME 04843 (email:

The decline of fishing participation is well documented: In Ohio, for example, 368,000 fewer licenses were sold in 1995 than in 1990. And in Pennsylvania 100,000 fewer fishing licenses were sold in 1996 than the previous year. Michigan experienced a decline of 113,848 fishing licenses between 1990 and 1995. Nationwide, although fishing increased by 20% between 1980 and 1990, the number of anglers decreased by almost half a million between 1990 and 1996, according to the newly released National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

It's hard to argue with these numbers, but why they're down is open to considerable debate. The reason at the top of many people's list: single-parent, female headed households. And why not? In 1970, 11% of all U. S. households with children were headed by a single-parent. By 1995 that figure was 26%. Plus, research shows that family, especially the father, is extremely important in teaching a child to fish. So it's easy to point the finger at single-parent, female-headed households as a major cause for the decline in fishing numbers.

There's only one problem. It's not true. It's a myth, a popular assumption that has gained a life of its own.

So far, research shows no statistically significant differences between fishing participation among those who grew up in a single-parent household and those who were raised in a two-parent home.

In a major nationwide survey on American's fishing participation,our company asked the public questions about its fishing habits -- if people had ever fished, if they have been fishing in the past two years, how often they fish, etc. We also questioned them what kind of household they grew up in -- with a single-parent, one with a mother and a father, or if they were raised by someone other than a parent. There was no difference in fishing participation among these two groups.

The study results didn't really surprise us since our research on hunting participation, as well as other researcher's work on fishing, found similar results. In a study of Michigan anglers, Dr. Shari Dann of Michigan State University similarly found no statistically significant differences in fishing participation based on single-parent households and dual-parent households. In a major study of influences on declining hunting numbers in the United States By Dr. Tom Heberlein and Dr. Elizabeth Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, mother-headed households were not a factor in contributing to the decline in either the male hunting population or the female hunting population

In two other separate studies we've conducted, one with adult American hunters and another with American teenagers', we found no evidence that single-parent households were having an impact on hunting participation. Every cross tabulation conducted on the data led to the same results.

What is surprising, though, is the pervasiveness and almost universal acceptance of the idea that single-parent households are responsible for the stagnation/decline in fishing and hunting. The issue is interesting because it makes three assumptions:

  • First, women don't take their kids fishing. But research shows otherwise. Females do take their children fishing. Furthermore, more women are fishing these days, not fewer. While fishing participation among the U S male population has remained stable over past decade, there are now more women anglers than there were 10 years ago.

  • Second, the rise in single-parent households is occuring at equal rates across demographic groups. However, Census Bureau data shows that children growing up in the city are more likely to be raised in a single-parent household than those raised in suburban or rural areas. For example, in the inner city in 1995, 39% of all households with children were headed by single-parents. And because rural residents are much more likely to fish and hunt than people from large cities, the increase in single-parent households is occurring among a segment of the population that is much less likely to fish or hunt in the first place.

  • Third, children in single-parent, female headed households never see their fathers and lack a social support system to take them fishing or hunting. Sure, some kids never do see their father. But it's more likely that although dad may not live in the same house, he certainly isn't out of the picture. In many divorced households, dad picks up the kids on Saturday morning and goes off to the soccer field or the lake to fish. Finally, in other female-headed households, grandfathers, uncles and neighbors often step into the role of taking the kids fishing or hunting.

To be sure, broad demographic changes are adversely affecting fishing participation. Research shows that the reasons behind fishing declines among U S males include an aging population and fewer men growing up in rural areas. The same is true for US females. Other issues also are having a negative impact on fishing participation: anglers have less free time to fish,fewer fish to catch (in some parts of the nation) and face competing recreational interests among children. Short-term impacts include increases in license costs, flooding and poor weather, and health concerns over eating fish.

What about the future? Interestingly, statistics indicate that the growth in single-parent households has slowed and may even decline slightly in the years to come. Census Bureau statistics show that of all U S households (not just households with children) in 1970, 5% were headed by a single-parent. By 1995 this figure increased to 9.1%. It's projected to decline to 8% by the year 2020.

A final note: Single-parent households have a difficult enough time trying to do the job of two, so let's give them a break and stop blaming them for causing a decline in fishing participation. And whether kids are raised by one parent or twok children's fishing programs ( or simply taking them fishing) is one of the most important things we can do to help perpetuate our fishing heritage, a subject I will address in another column.

Please keep your letters and faxes coming in. You give me great ideas on what to cover in this column and you help me keep in touch with what you think is important. Write to: Responsive Management, PO Box 389, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22801 or fax me at 540-432-1892 and my email address

About the author: Mark Damian Duda is executive director of Responsive Management, a survey, research and marketing firm specializing in hunting, fishing and wildlife-associated recreation, as well as in public attitudes toward natural-resource and environmental issues. The company is located in Harrisonburg,Virginia.