After increasing steadily for several decades, the share of children living in single-mother families leveled off in the mid-1990s at 25% and actually fell slightly between 1999 and 2001.
Yet, researchers, policymakers and members of the media have paid very little attention to the changing American family. This lack of attention is surprising given the extensive discussions among policymakers about the importance of marriage and the need for government intervention to create more stable two-parent families.
This paper attempts to illuminate what happened to family structure during the past decade by taking a closer look at changes among several different subgroups defined by demographic, economic and geographic characteristics.
Researchers learned that:
The prevalence of children living in single-mother families decreased from 25% in 1996 to 23% in 2001. This change was widespread and applied to 12 of the 15 demographic groups studied.
Several economically marginalized groups experienced the largest decreases in the share of children living in single-mother families. Between 1996 and 2001, the share of children living in female-headed families fell by:
6.2 percentage points among children living in central cities;
5.9 percentage points among Black children;
4.4 percentage points among Hispanic children;
4.1 percentage points among children in poverty; and
2.6 percentage points among immigrant children.
Racial minorities and families living in big cities have fueled the recent downturn in the percentage of children living in single-mother families. These are among the very groups that fueled the increases in single-mother families during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
A new trend emerges for kids in single-mother households
Findings & Stats
Greater Risks for Kids of Single Moms
Compared to children in married-couple families, kids in single-mother families are:
five times as likely to be poor;
more than four times as likely to be living in a family where no parent has a full-time, year-round job;
almost twice as likely to be without health insurance;
three times as likely to be living in a household without a telephone; and
twice as likely to drop out of high school.
The Impact of Immigration
During the 1990s, there was a large increase in the number of immigrants, and immigrant families with children are more likely to be married than their non-immigrant counterparts. In 2002, 20% of kids in immigrant families were living in single-mother families compared to 25% of kids in non-immigrant families.
Strengthening the Family Safety Net
In addition to the economic expansion during the late 1990s, policymakers also initiated or expanded many programs to support low-income, working families. Government investments in programs to support children result in better outcomes, according to researchers.
Not All Single Parents Are the Same
The distinction between single parents who have never been married and single parents who are divorced or separated is important. One example: Poverty impacts 46% of kids living with a never-married parent and just 33% of kids living with a divorced parent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2002 Current Population Survey.
Statements & Quotations
Increasingly, social science evidence suggests that kids growing up in single-mother families have a host of disadvantages relative to their counterparts in married-couple families.
The prevalence of children living in single-mother families have important implications for children, families, and society.
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