Single Parent Statistics Based on Census Data

Mom sitting with toddler on a window sill
Carlina Teteris / Getty Images

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 from 2015 (published in 2018), 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: 2015, a report released by the U.S Census Bureau every two years, there are approximately 13.6 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 22.4 million children. This number represents approximately 27% 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.

The Typical Single Parent

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 80.4% of custodial parents are mothers, and 19.6% of custodial parents (approximately 1 in 5) are fathers.

She's Divorced or Separated

The assumption that "most" single mothers are single from the outset is false. Of the mothers who are custodial parents:

  • 1.2% were widowed
  • 15.7% are married; in most cases, these numbers represent women who have remarried
  • 40.6% are currently divorced or separated
  • 42.6% have never been married

She's Employed

Another assumption about single moms is that most are unemployed. Again, that notion is not true according to the Census data. Statistics show that 50% of custodial single mothers are gainfully employed (work full time year-round) and 19.9% did not have a job.

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. Nonetheless, the poverty rate for single-parent families was 10% higher than the U.S. average, according to the Census. Additionally:

  • 16.7% of custodial single fathers and their children lived in poverty
  • 29.2% of custodial single mothers 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:

  • 30.5% of custodial fathers received some form of government assistance
  • 36.6% received SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits
  • 48.5% of custodial mothers received some form of government assistance in 2015

She's 40 Years Old or Older

Another assumption about single moms is that "most" are young. According to the actual data, 40.1% of custodial mothers are 40 years old or older.

She's Raising One Child

Finally, another assumption about single moms is that "most" are raising multiple children. In reality:

  • 46.4% have two or more children living with them
  • 55.2% of custodial parents are raising one child from the absent parent

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 Source
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  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2015.

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.