single mom statistics

Who are single moms today?

In summary, there are more single-parented headed households today than any other time in recent history. The majority of those families are headed by a single mom. In fact, 57% of millennial moms are unmarried moms, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

The reasons for these quickly changing statistics include high — but declining — divorce rates, but more significantly, a drop in marriage rates overall among young people in the United States, and an overall acceptance for having children outside of a “traditional” heterosexual, first marriage.

This post has recent stats on single-parent headed homes and their children, but also sheds light on the nuance of the surge in single parenthood and marriage, as well as equal co-parenting.

Single mom statistics

There were 15 million single mother-headed households in the United States in 2019. This is 3x the number in 1960. In addition:

  • 25% of U.S. families are headed by a single parent, and 80% of single-parent headed households are moms — or 21% of children live primarily with a single mother, according to Census data.
  • An additional 7% of children live with unmarried parents (the Census Bureau counts these as single-parent-headed households).
  • 40% of babies born in the United States were born to unmarried mothers in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is up only slightly from 37% in 2005.

Millennial single mom statistics

Per Johns Hopkins University researchers paper, “Changing Fertility Regimes and the Transition to Adulthood: Evidence from a Recent Cohort”:

  • 57% of babies born to millennials were out of wedlock.
  • 64% of millennial moms reported at least one birth out of wedlock .

More educated millennials are having babies outside of marriage. Of millennial moms who have babies outside of marriage, 67% have some college education, and 32% have four or more years of higher education.

While the 2.1 million single mothers in college in 2012 is double that of 2000, according to an Institute for Women's Policy report, the graduation rate of women who entered college as a mom is just 28% for single moms, compared with 40% percent of married moms, and 57% of female students who were not parents.

Older single mom statistics

Today, there are far more older mothers overall, including more older single moms.

By comparison, there has been a 70% drop in teen births — from 62% of girls aged 15-19 in 1991, to 19% in 2017, the most recent data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • 48% increase in births to unmarried women aged 35-39 (2007-12)
  • 29% increase in births to unmarried moms aged 40-44
  • 55% of never-married women ages 40 to 44 have at least one child, up from 31 percent two decades ago, according to Pew's analysis of Census data.

Single mothers by choice

While the rate of babies born to single mothers has declined slightly, there is a notable rise in babies born to single moms by choice – women who tend to be older, more educated, and with higher income.

Single moms' education and income

Of millennial moms who have babies outside of marriage, 67% have some college education, and 32% have four or more years of higher education.

What percent of single mothers live in poverty?

  • 32% of single moms earn $40,000+ 
  • 10% of single moms earn $80,000+

A 2018 Pew Research Center analysis found the poverty rate by household head was:

  • 30% of solo mothers
  • 17% of solo fathers
  • 16% of families headed by a cohabiting couples
  • 8% of married couple families

From the report:

Cohabiting parents are younger, less educated and less likely to have ever been married than solo parents. At the same time, solo parents have fewer children on average than cohabiting parents and are far more likely to be living with one of their own parents (23% vs. 4%) …

Solo moms are more than twice as likely to be black as cohabiting moms (30% vs. 12%), and roughly four times as likely as married moms (7% of whom are black). Four-in-ten solo mothers are white, compared with 58% of cohabiting moms and 61% of married moms.
There are virtually no racial and ethnic differences in the profiles of solo and cohabiting fathers.

Distribution of parents, by parent type

What country has the highest rate of single mothers?

A December, 2019 Pew Research Center study of 130 countries and territories finds the United States has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households, at 23%. By comparison:

  • Russia 18% of children live in single parent-headed households
  • Uganda 10%
  • Germany 12%
  • Japan 7%
  • Mexico 7%
  • India 5%
  • China 4%
  • Worldwide: an average of 7% of children under age 18 live with a single parent

Single moms are overwhelmingly doing it all alone

  • 50% of custodial parents have child support agreements (informal or formal), but only 44% received all child support owed, according to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau report.
  • The median sum due is abot $480 per month.
Child Support Payments Received by Custodial Parents[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]
  • Of fathers who live apart from their children, only 22% of dads see their kids more than once per week.

But, how many of those fathers choose not to see their kids more, and how many of them are forced out their kids' lives completely, or marginalized to a weekend dad?

The answer to this question is complicated and hotly debated. A sexist culture and family court system that marginalizes fathers is a real force, as is parental alienation, mass incarceration of African American men are all real forces.

What drives single mom trends?

There are 1.2 million divorces in the United States each year.

Traditional nuclear families with two married heterosexual parents are now the minority of U.S. The rise of single motherhood is the largest influence on this trend — followed by multigenerational families, blended families, adoptive and foster families, and famililes headed by same-sex parents. 

46% millennials and 44% GenXers say “Marriage is becoming obsolete.” 

Related articles on single moms

Not all of those mothers were single: Many were living with partners.

Among high school graduates, depicted in the chart below, for instance, 28 percent of children were born to cohabiting couples.

Combine that with the 41 percent of children born to married couples, then most babies were born into two-parent households.

The problem is that cohabiting couples don't always last— and are less likely to stay together than couples that marry.

Their relationships fare better than parents who aren’t living together at all, but frequently the mother ends up raising a child alone.


Single motherhood by age, race and class

Single mother numbers in the United States have always been higher among African American women. At the hands of slavery, black women's consensual relationships and marriages bore no legal rights, and black women had no legal rights to the children they bore at the hands of rape of their white slave owners.

Per Pew:

“Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America.

The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree. Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children.

But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.”

“Single parent households exist in a different socioeconomic pool than married households.

Single mothers earn incomes that place them well below married mothers in the income ladder.

According to Pew, married mothers earned a median family income of $80,000 in 2011, almost four times more than families led by a single mom.

This is likely a consequence of the lower educational qualifications of single mothers, as well as the fact that they are younger and more likely to be black or Hispanic.

Married mothers tend to be older and are disproportionately white and college-educated.”


Marriage and parenthood are no longer linked

“Throughout history, marriage and parenthood have been linked milestones on the journey to adulthood.

But for the young adults of the Millennial Generation, these social institutions are becoming delinked and differently valued.

Today’s 18- to 29-year-olds value parenthood far more than marriage.”


Black dads spend more time, and more quality time with their children than any other race

Considering the fact that “black fatherhood” is a phrase that is almost always accompanied by the word “crisis” in U.S. society, it’s understandable that the CDC’s results seem innovative.

But in reality, the new data builds upon years of research that’s concluded that hands-on parenting is similar among dads of all races, and the CDC found that black dads are more involved with their kids on a daily basis than dads from other racial groups.



There are more single moms because it is more acceptable to be a single mom

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.

Related: Don't cry for me, I'm a black single mother

“When marriage was the near-universal norm in American society, a pregnancy out of wedlock pushed a couple toward one of four choices: shotgun wedding; adoption; abortion; or single motherhood, in that order of social acceptability.

The result was a society in which both abortion and single motherhood were rare.

In the decade after 1965, both women and men claimed greater sexual autonomy for themselves. The shotgun marriage seemed an increasingly outrageous imposition to meet increasingly irrelevant social expectations. After 1970, adoption of native-born American children by non-related parents rapidly dwindled. Yet outright single motherhood remained comparatively unusual for middle-class Americans, and especially for white middle-class Americans. The abortion spike between 1975 and 1990 reflected a new ranking of acceptable responses to an unmarried pregnancy: abortion, single parenthood, shotgun wedding, and adoption, in that order.”


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 60 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.

Related:  Close the pay gap? Get dads involved? Answer: shared parenting and no child support

Millennial moms are more comfortable 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 single moms are college-educated, Johns Hopkins researchers found.

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.

Fathers are more hands-on, even though dads are less likely to live with their children

“The role of fathers in the modern American family is changing in important and countervailing ways.

Fathers who live with their children have become more intensely involved in their lives, spending more time with them and taking part in a greater variety of activities.

However, the share of fathers who are residing with their children has fallen significantly in the past half-century.”

ThinkProgress.org: “The Myth of the Absent Black Father”

Do children of single parents have more problems?

“Children growing up with a single mother are exposed to more family instability and complexity, they have more behavior problems, and they are less likely to finish high school or attend college than children raised by both of their parents.

On the other hand, these differences in children’s behavior and success might well be traceable to differences that would exist even if the biological father were present.”

Sara McLanahan is professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. Christopher Jencks is professor of social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.


More reading:

Who gets to call themselves a ‘single mom'?

Close the pay gap? Get dads involved? Do this

Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp

Kickass Single Mom, Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, By: Emma Johnson

Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere

Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By: by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW

Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By: Dr. Richard A. Warshak


About Emma Johnson

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.

64 Comments

  1. Mary Corelli on July 8, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    Hi Emma- I appreciate the work you are doing in bringing awareness through your own perspectives and knowledge. The statistics here were powerful. I would say that your perspective as a wealthy single mom gives a certain view that frames some of your writing and excludes certain other perspectives. Of course this is always the case, we all have limited perspectives. I thin we cannot talk about single moms without talking about domestic violence. Beside seeing statistics on “single mom by choice” I want to see “single mom not by choice” or “single mom by trauma”. There are so many women who are single parenting because of abuse and leaving violent partners. I would also challenge “millenial moms are more comfortable with being working parents”. I do not agree with this sentiment, likely because I do not live as a wealth single mom. If I were making great money, perhaps I would feel more okay with being a working single mom, but I don’t make good money and I struggle to get by. We can criticize this or problem solve it, but in reality I know it isn’t my problem to fix. I hold a master’s degree and as a counselor I will probably never make enough money to pay off my student loans. With the pandemic, I have been out of wages for 3 months. And as your article recognizes, I am one of those people who have only received a small portion of the child support I am owed. Finally I would like to say that we need to challenge this perspective that shared custody or parent time arrangements are the goal. While I genuinely celebrate for you or any people who have this situation, it is a privilege. Many single mothers have an ex-partner or child(ren)’s father who is, like I mentioned before, violent, abusive, or mentally ill. We can talk about the goal of having harmonious co-parenting arrangements, but we need to know this is only realistic or even safe for part of the population of single moms we are discussing. The stigma I encounter here is shame in having a partner who is narcissistic or dysfunctional, and that shame if wrong. No single mother or survivor of domestic violence or other trauma-defined circumstances needs to be judged for a problem that a broken world and intergenerational trauma have created. This stigma is toxic and I would like to see it brought to light much more. Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate this conversation.

  2. Anna E on May 2, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Your point on black dads is a lie.

    The illegitimacy rate for black children is 80%. Fifty percent don’t know who their fathers are or have no regular contact with their fathers.

    The study you are undoubtedly quoting does NOT communicate that black fathers overall spend more time with their children than fathers of other races overall, but rather that black fathers spend more time with their children than fathers of other races in COMPARATIVE relationships. So while married black fathers spend more time with their children than married white fathers, let’s say, the vast majority of black fathers overall are still unmarried and have little to no contact with their children.

    Lying to make black people feel better is a disservice and is a form of erasure of children who suffered through these experiences and have long-lasting emotional/psychological issues as a result.

  3. 15 Eye-Opening Single Mother Statistics for 2020 on February 24, 2020 at 7:22 am

    […] Wealthy Single Mommy […]

  4. […] States. Seventy-six percent of single moms are employed, over half of us only have one child, and fifty-eight percent of us have attended college or have at least a bachelor’s degree. The teen birth rate has been on […]

  5. Darious Rodgers on April 23, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Yr figures are wrong just fake news.Seeing the black dads are the most involved…
    Knew something was up
    our community will never improve if ppl like u continue to whitewash our true problems. How bout instead of generalizing yr past relationship problems to our culture try reporting TRUTH next time
    #FakeNews
    #fakestats

  6. Frank on March 11, 2019 at 11:16 pm

    Statements recognizing this huge increase in single mothers doesn’t support any position that this is a good trend, in fact statistics show its actually detrimental to humanity. Men are going MGTOW because of silly articles trying to justify and normalize this ridiculous trend. Women just be the women you were meant to be not who these people tell you to be.

  7. […] Thankfully, I’ve never been the type to let these kinds of experiences weigh me down. I retain them as important lessons but don’t allow them to color my attitude or steal my joy. While I’ve encountered my share of naysayers, I’m fortunate to have been supported and uplifted by a great many men and women throughout my life. I wish the same kind of support, resilience and optimism for every one of the 10 million single working mothers in the United States today. […]

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