Like every generation in recent history, Millennials are redefining parenthood — and one of the most dramatic shifts is the rise of single motherhood among new moms.
Meta trends around women in 2017 are intertwined with the recent surge in the number of single mothers in recent decades. A full 64 percent of Millennial moms report having at least one baby while unmarried, and 57 percent of babies born to Millenials were to unmarried moms, according to Census data. By comparison, in 1960, 95 percent of single mothers had been married at some point, but by 2013, only half of all single mothers had ever been married. As marriage rates have dropped to historic lows, and divorce rates have hovered around 40 to 50 percent over the past four decades, it is safe to assume that single-mother-led households will be a majority within our lifetimes.
As the numeric majority, how will this huge new group of single moms change the face of U.S. motherhood? This is a chicken-and-egg equation, the answer of which will reveal itself as the generation matures. But there are direct correlations between the rise of single moms and Millennial parenting trends overall.
New embrace of different types of families as ‘normal’
Single moms are growing in number, in part, because women have more financial opportunities, and can more comfortably afford to have children without the full-time financial support of the children’s father. At the same time, the rise in single motherhood has severely lessened the stigma of being an unmarried mom, a fact that has been attributed to the drop in abortion rates in recent decades.
The rise and general acceptance of single motherhood across all demographics (young, African American and Hispanic moms make up the majority of this trend, but older, more affluent single-moms-by-choice is the fastest growing segment of the single-mom population), is part of a larger trend of redefining what family and healthy family means. It was a few years ago that headlines announced that the married, heterosexual parent household with children is now the statistical minority in the United States. Today, about a quarter of married couples who live with children under age 18 are in these Leave it to Beaver families where only the father works — down 47 percent in 1970.
While gay, multi-generational, blended and adoptive families are on the rise, single-mom-led households made up the bulk of that new majority of “non-traditional” families (enter eye-rolling of many, including this writer!). Paired with news that young adults increasingly find marriage an “obsolete” institution, this made sense. However, this new acceptance of family does not preclude romantic partnerships, as most Millennial moms are in committed romantic partnerships, even if they are not legally married.
More ease with being a working parent
The youngest generation of mothers are redefining what it means to be a parent, spouse, professional and citizen. We know that young mothers are the most formally educated in all of history, and are more likely to work for pay outside the home than their mothers or grandmothers, wielding far more financial, professional and political power than ever before.
Inclusive of this fact, 67 percent of Millennial moms are college educated.
This is a group of women who feel less guilty about all the work/family/life conflict that weighs down older generations. A Pew survey found that 57 percent of Millennial moms feel they are doing a “very good job” at parenting, compared with 48 percent of Gen X moms and 41 percent of Boomer moms.
More gender equality at home — including in separated families
Today’s expectations of the role that men and women will play in parenting is different from older moms. Millennial mothers are most likely to have children with men who are more inclined to share household and childcare duties. To wit: a 1982 study found 43 percent of fathers never changed a diaper. By 2000 another study showed this figure had fallen to 3 percent.
Fatherhood, as we know, goes far beyond keeping little butts clean. While the bulk of care of children still falls on women, a Boston College Center for Work & Family study found that 66 percent of Millennial dads believe that child care should be shared equally (even if just 29 percent conceded that that work is actually shared equally in their family), and the number of hours dads today spend with their kids tripled to 7 hours weekly in 2015 from 1965, while they spend an average of nine hours on housework, up from four hours half a century earlier.
These trends are reflected in separated families, where the number of hours that dads spend with children has increased regardless of whether the dad is a part of the same household. While in 80 percent of custody cases, courts rule to give mothers primary residence, there is a huge new movement towards shared parenting, in which it is presumed that both parents have equal legal custody and approximately half time with each parent in the event of a separation. In fact, in 2017 alone, shared parenting legislation has been introduced in 25 states, and counting. This makes sense, as there are 55 peer-reviewed studies that find that shared parenting — in which each parent has the kids about 40 percent of the time — is best for children.
Shared parenting is also great for moms. After all, if with more parenting and time support from another parent means more time to nurture other parts of your life — including your career. After all, we can’t have equality at work if we don’t have equality in your family — regardless of what your family looks like.
Are you a Millennial mom? How do you think your generation is changing what it means to be a parent? Share in the comments!