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, 64% of millennial moms have a child outside of marriage, 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.
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 families headed by same-sex parents.
A full 46% millennials and 44% GenXers say “marriage is becoming obsolete.”
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 15.6 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 U.S. children live primarily with a single mother, according to Census data.
- Studies estimate that by the time children turn 9, 20% of U.S. children born to a married couple and more than 50% of those born to a cohabiting couple will experience the breakup of their folks.
- 40% of babies born in the United States were born to an unmarried mom in 2018, according to census data.
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 millennial parents had at least one child 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.
There is a stark division between single millennial moms who have college degrees and those who do not:
- 71% of millennial moms with a four-year college degree were married, and typically were in their 20s when they first gave birth.
- 74% of millennial moms without a bachelor’s degree were unmarried, and typically had children younger.
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.
Gen Z single mothers statistics
Generation Z — children born in the mid to late 1990s to early 2010s — are mostly descendants of Gen X.
According to an article by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Gen Z women were:
- More likely to be unmarried when having a baby — numbers increased from 33% to 40% between 2000 and 2018
- More likely to graduate from high school and pursue higher education
According to Pew Research Center, Gen Z are poised to be the best-educated generation to date. As of 2018, 57% were enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges compared with 52% of Millenials in 2003 and 43% of Gen Xers in 1987.
In 2019, 44% of Gen Z, ages 7 to 17 were growing up with a parent who graduated with a bachelor’s degree or pursued higher education.
A 2022 Forbes article asserts that Gen Z women are delaying motherhood in favor of work and a desire to have a flexible life with protected time just for themselves.
This could be because Gen Zers were more likely to have been raised by a single parent, according to The Survey Center on American Life.
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.
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 motherhood rate by race
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.
“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.”
|Single mothers by race and percentage
|Percentage of white single mothers
|Percentage of single black mothers
|Percentage of Hispanic single mothers
|Percentage of Asian single mothers
Single mothers’ statistics: 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 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.
Single motherhood pay gap
Mothers overall suffer a pay gap of 29%, earning an average of 71 cents for every $1 earned by a dad — or an average of $16,000 less per year, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
This motherhood penalty is dramatically worse for single mothers at 35%. According to Pew Research, single moms with a household of three earn just $26,000 per year on average, compared with $40,000 per year for single dads.
I conducted a survey of 2,279 single moms and found a direct correlation between time-sharing between single parents, and single moms’ include. The 2021 white paper outlining the findings of the Single Mom Income and Time-Sharing Survey are here:
- Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad), and more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000+ than single moms with 100% time responsibility.
- Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are more than twice as likely to earn $65,000+, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100% parenting time.
- 13% of single moms have a 50/50 parenting arrangement, and 51% have their children 100% of the time.
- 9 in 10 single moms say they could earn more money if they had more equality in their co-parenting schedules.
- Moms with 50/50 parenting time are 34% more likely to say they feel “awesome and proud” of being a mom when compared with moms who care for their kids 100% of the time.
I also founded Moms For Shared Parenting, an organization devoted to advancing parenting policy and culture.
Single mothers on food stamps and public assistance
There were 15.6 million children living in single mother-headed households in the United States, according to U.S. Census data.
- About 5.5 million children lived below 100% of poverty
- Nearly 7.1 million children were in the food stamp program
- Roughly 1.1 million children were in single-mother families that received public assistance
Single parents by country
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
Children in single-parent families by race in the United States
According to the most recent U.S. census data, these are the percentages of children per race in single-parent homes:
- American Indian – 52%
- Asian and Pacific Islander – 15%
- Black or African American – 64%
- Hispanic or Latino – 42%
- White (Non-Hispanic) – 24%
- Two or more races – 40%
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 about $480 per month.
- Of fathers who live apart from their children, 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.
Challenges of single-parent families
Children in single-parent families are more likely to face challenges stemming from the breakup of their parents.
According to an article by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, over 50% of children born to cohabiting couples will experience a parent leaving the home. And 20% of children whose parents are married will experience a divorce by the time they turn 9 years old.
This equates to a disruption in routines, living spaces, education, and household income.
For divorcing couples, parenting classes are a great first-step to restoring stability for children in the midst of a split. Learning how to co-parent is essential to better outcomes for children of divorce.
As research continues to evolve on this topic, several factors are clear: children excel in stable, safe nurturing environments where their emotional and physical needs are met.
Takeaways from these single mom statistics
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.
From “Why Is The Abortion Rate Falling?” in The Atlantic:
“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. Only about 35% percent of child custody cases rule to give fathers primary residence, but 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.
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.
The Luxury of Waiting for Marriage to Have Kids (The Atlantic)
Related documentary and books on shared parenting:
Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp
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