Single Parent Statistics

Get the Facts About Single Parentood in America

Father drawing with daughter
David Sacks Getty Images

Even today, when 50% of U.S. children will spend some part of their childhoods in a single parent family, disdain for single moms and dads continues. Take a look at the facts, made available through the U.S. Census Bureau, before passing judgment.

Single Parent Statistics in the U.S.

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), approximately 13.7 million single moms and dads are currently raising their children in the U.S. Despite the hype about growing numbers of single parents, this statistic has remained relatively constant since 1994.

Children Being Raised in Single Parent Homes

Just how many kids are being raised in single parent homes? In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that approximately 22 million children under the age of 21 were being raised by a single parent. At the time, that number represented approximately 26.2% of all children under 21 in the U.S.

Custodial Single Parent Statistics

Historically, mothers have long borne -- by far -- most of the responsibility for raising their children. And that trend continues today. In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that mothers represented 82.2% of all custodial parents, while fathers represented 17.8%. While these numbers may be discouraging to dads who hope to win child custody, it's important to remember that for many single parent families, custody is a matter of where the children sleep. While shared custody is on the rise, it's still more common for parents (or the state) to decide that the children will live in one location -- usually with the mother according to these statistics -- while both parents continue to spend approximately equal amounts of parenting time with the children.


Employment and Single Parents

Negativity toward single parents is often centered on the issue of employment and the incorrect perception that "most" single moms and dads don't work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49.5% of custodial single parents worked full-time, year-round, in 2009 and 28.1% of custodial single parents worked either part-time or part-year.

At that time, 24.7% of custodial single parents were unemployed, many of whom were impacted by the recent recession.

The Impact of Poverty

Negativity about whether single parents are employed goes hand-ind-hand with negativity about poverty -- as though single moms and dads raising their children in poverty choose to do nothing about it. Nothing could be further from the truth! According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28.3% of all custodial parents and their children earned less than the Federal poverty level in 2009, compared to 14.3% of the general population in the U.S. Clearly these statistics indicate that single parents are more likely to be raising their children in poverty -- but that doesn't mean they're in poverty because they don't want to get out. As the numbers indicate, there's more to the story.

Single Parent Statistics and Government Assistance

Another hub of negativity toward single parents centers on the issue of government assistance. Ever heard that "most" single moms and dads are on welfare?

Think again! According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 41.3% of custodial mothers received government assistance in 2009, compared to 20.9% of custodial fathers. Yet only 6.8% of custodial single parents received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is the program formerly known as welfare. During the same year, 32.3% of custodial mothers received  SNAP benefits, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

What About Child Support?

According to the U.S Census Bureau, only 41.2% of parents who were due child support actually received that support in full in 2009. According to the same report, among parents who did actually receive the full amount of child support due, that support represented 62.6% of the average income for custodial parents who lived below the poverty line in 2009. Given that the average child support amount awarded at that time was $5,955 per year, we're talking about families who are squeaking by on very little money. Instead of judging them, we need to be applauding their determination and lending our support -- a listening ear, child care help, and professional guidance. Politicians and individuals who want to change the world should start by supporting the single mom next door!

United States. Census Department. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009. By Timothy S. Grall. Census, 2009. 24 Nov. 2013 [].