There are a lot of assumptions out there about single parents -- and particularly single moms. For example, there are people who believe that "most" single moms choose to raise their kids solo, are unemployed, and receive government assistance. While every family's story is different, most don't support these assumptions. When you examine U.S. Census data, the actual single parent statistics may surprise you. Let's take a look...
Single Parents By the Numbers
According to Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009, a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau every two years (and most recently in December 2011), there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 22 million children. This number represents approximately 26% of children under 21 in the U.S. today.
Despite negative assumptions that most single moms "selfishly" chose to raise their kids solo, the majority of individuals raising children alone started out in committed relationships and never expected to be single parents. Here's a picture of the "typical" single parent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:
She's a Single Mother
The presumption that most single parents are mothers is accurate. According to the Census data:
- Approximately 82.2% of custodial parents are mothers, and
- 17.8% of custodial parents (approximately 1 in 6) are fathers
She is Divorced or Separated
The assumption that "most" single mothers are single from the outset is false. Of the mothers who are custodial parents:
- 44.2% are currently divorced or separated
- 36.8% have never been married
- 18% are married (In most cases, these numbers represent women who have remarried.)
- 1.1% were widowed
Of the fathers who are custodial parents:
- 53.5% are divorced or separated
- 24.7% have never married1
She is Employed
Another assumption about single moms is that most are unemployed. Again, that notion is not true according to the Census data.
- 76% of custodial single mothers are gainfully employed (53.2% work full time, year round and 22.8% work part-time or part-year)
- 85.1% of custodial single fathers are gainfully employed2
She and Her Children Do Not Live in Poverty
One single parent family in poverty is one too many, but according to the U.S. Census data, poverty isn't the norm for most single parent families. However, custodial single mothers and their children are twice as likely to live in poverty as the general population. According to the Census:
- In 2009 14.3% of the total U.S. population lived in poverty
- 30.4% of custodial single mothers and their children lived in poverty
- 18.8% of custodial single fathers and their children lived in poverty
She Does Not Receive Public Assistance
Another assumption about single moms is that "most" receive government assistance. According to the actual data:
- In 2009, 41.3% of custodial mothers received some form of government assistance
- 32.3% received SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits
- 6.8% of custodial single moms received TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
- 20.9% of custodial fathers received some form of government assistance
She is 40 Years Old or Older
Another assumption about single moms is that "most" are young. According to the actual data:
- 37.2% of custodial single mothers are 40 years old or older
She is Raising One Child
Finally, another assumption about single moms is that "most" are raising multiple children. In reality:
- 57.2% of custodial mothers are raising one child from the absent parent
- 44.1% have two or more children living with them
While these numbers give a snapshot, they don't tell the real story about what it means to be a single parent. For every story you hear about a single mom or dad abusing government benefits or living up to some other negative stereotype, remember that those behaviors don't reflect the reality most single parent families face. If you want to know more, ignore the stereotypes altogether and get to know the single mom who lives next door or whose children attend the same school as your own kids. First-hand experience is the best way to buck these widely held stereotypes and build a community of support in their place!
1 The 2009 Census Bureau report did not include statistics about married or widowed custodial single fathers.
2 The 2009 Census Bureau report did not include statistics about the percentage of custodial single fathers who are employed full-time vs. those who are employed part-time or part-year.
United States. Census Department. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009. By Timothy S. Grall. Census, 2009. 24 Nov. 2013 [http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-240.pdf].