York sociologist’s study sheds light on StatsCan report on families

Lone-parent families – the majority of which teeter on the edge of financial dire straits – make up a record one in four Canadian families with children, according to census information released Wednesday, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press Sept. 13. Evidence of the lone-parent phenomenon reaches back to the early 20th century, but the reasons more and more Canadian children are being raised by only one parent are drastically different than they were 75 years ago.

Regardless of the cause, poverty is a common thread. "The problem is that you have only one breadwinner, when that breadwinner is employed at all," said Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emeritus of sociology in York’s Faculty of Arts. "The first consequence is definitely much higher poverty rates among [single parent families], especially for women who have had children by themselves and were young," said Ambert, who wrote a paper on the subject last year for The Vanier Institute of the Family. "It definitely has increased the poverty rates, there’s no question about that."

Ambert’s study suggests that between 35 and 80 per cent of one-parent families are poor at some point in their life while others "hover precariously above the poverty level." American research, cited in Ambert’s study, has found boys raised without a father were twice as likely to be jailed – although children raised in stepparent families were at an even greater risk of running afoul of the law. While Ambert said the majority of children raised by a single mother don’t turn to crime, "it’s a very, very big risk, combining father absence and poverty."

  • Ambert cites a number of reasons for the changing face of the nuclear family, but suggests none has been more influential than consumerism, which she believes sent mothers marching into the workforce and out of their traditional homemaking role, wrote Canadian Press Sept. 12.

“There is so much emphasis on consumerism; it’s so expensive to live because people ‘need’ all kinds of goods that are very expensive,” she said. “The size of home and the number of bathrooms have increased while the number of children has decreased.” Ambert says it’s unclear why some couples stay together and raise children while others do not.

  • CBC News online also carried a story on the census report that included Ambert’s comments, on Sept. 12.

Wrong cancer emphasis, writes Health dean

The recent study by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance described in André Picard’s article (How Cancer Research Dollars Are Spent – Sept. 12), stating that only two per cent of research is directed to cancer prevention, is in stark contrast with the evidence that up to two-thirds of cancers are preventable with sustained programs aimed at tobacco control, physical inactivity, unhealthy body weights and poor nutrition, wrote Harvey Skinner, dean of York’s Faculty of Health, in a letter to The Globe and Mail Sept. 13.

In an era of evidence-based decision-making, would it not make more sense to give greater research emphasis (funding) to understanding what is needed to put prevention into practice. What is the story behind this imbalance in research funding?, asked Skinner.

Dancing nature’s rhythms

York graduate student Shannon Elliott, who is completing a master of arts in dance at York, is investigating the meeting of nature and dance by looking at mechanisms found in the environment, such as waves or the circadian rhythms of plants, and the corresponding mechanisms found in the human body, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 13 in its Deep Thoughts column. "I want to focus on rhythms that occur in nature and rhythms in the body and emphasize the interconnectedness between the body and the earth," says Elliott, a former professional dancer who has a background in contemporary and jazz dance and ballet. This winter, she’ll put her research into a paper and a multimedia dance performance that will incorporate movement with photos and video of nature scenes.

Elliott and her husband took a six-month camping trip from coast to coast in the United States, where Elliott is from. "Witnessing all the different landscapes made me want to draw connections between my love for dance [and] my new-found love for nature. That’s how I started on my journey with this project," she said. The dance portion of her project will showcase as its background video and photos of mountains, oceans, deserts and forests she captured on that trip.

Graduate experiences an employment breakthrough

York alumna Issaaf Hawamdeh (MES ’03) came to Canada from Jordan in 2001 to get her master’s degree at York University, focusing on sustainable development, wrote the Toronto Star, Sept. 13, in a story about Ontario’s Career Bridge internship program. She went home in 2003 to apply her knowledge working on a variety of government projects. She returned in 2005 after obtaining permanent resident status and expected to resume her professional career, but hit a brick wall in the job market.

She ended up taking receptionist and clerical jobs, even though she also had a bachelor’s degree in business and economics, had worked as an executive assistant at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan and hosted her own radio show on sustainable development issues.

Hawamdeh, 38, says it was like starting her career over again. "I was on the wrong track and on the verge of going back home," says the Toronto resident. But she remembered reading about Career Bridge and, last December, she found an internship with Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services. After three months, she was offered the same job on a contract basis. It was supposed to end in October, but has been extended another six months. Her success to date has been based on "hard work, timing, and proving myself," she says.

On air

  • A study by former York researcher Amro Zayed (BSc ’01, PhD ’06) on how an invasive species can begin with one insect was featured on Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet” Sept. 12.