The Rise of the Single Father

Single Father Households are on the Rise

Single father households are becoming more and more common in the United States. Single Father households have risen from a little over 1% in 1960, to a record 8%  according to a report from the Pew Research Center.  That is about a nine-fold increase in the number of single father households in a little over 50 years.

Single father headed households have gone from less than 300,000 to more than 2.6 million in 2011.  While single mother lead households have increased from 1.9 million in 1960 to 8.6 million in 2011; that rate of increase is only four-fold during that period.  What this means is that single father households make up a larger (and growing) share of all single parent households in the United States.  Single parent households headed by fathers have gone from 14% in 1960, to 24%.  That’s almost a quarter of all single parent households.

How Single Father Lead Households are Different

According to this Report there are some notable statistical differences between single mother homes and single father homes.  For instance 41% of single fathers are living with a partner.  While only 16% of single mothers are cohabitating.  On average single fathers tend to have higher incomes than single mothers.  This translates to 24% of single father households living at or below the poverty line versus 43% of households lead by single mothers.

What is a Single Father?

The definition of a single father household can vary depending on who is doing the defining.  In this report, a single father is a male who is 15 years of age or older, who is the head of their household.  They are also living with their own children (under the age of 18).  The term ‘their own children’ can mean biological children, step-children or adopted children.

Fathers who are living in a household headed by someone else (for example, a young single father living with his parents) are excluded from the analysis.  Also excluded are single fathers whose children are not living with them.

The term ‘single father’ includes men in a variety of family circumstances. About half (52%) are separated, divorced, widowed, or never married and are living without a cohabiting partner.  As stated above, 41% are living with a non-marital partner.  And a small percentage (7%) are married but living apart from their spouse.

It’s interesting to note that, statistically speaking, cohabiting single fathers are particularly disadvantaged on most socio-economic indicators. They are younger, less educated and more likely to be living in poverty than are single fathers who are raising children without a spouse or partner in the household.

Why the Increase in Single Father Households?

The increase in single father households is likely due to a number of factors, most of which have also contributed to the increase in single mother households, and to the decline of two-married-parent households.

For one, non-marital births has increased significantly.  And even though divorce rates have leveled off in recent decades, they remain higher than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.  Some experts suggest that changes in the legal system have led to more opportunities for fathers to gain custody of their children in the event of a breakup, as well.

Also, the role of fathers has evolved over the years.  The public now acknowledges the importance of fathers not only as breadwinners, but also as caregivers. Some data shows that fathers are narrowing the (still sizable) gap with mothers, in the amount of time they spend with their children. And Pew Research surveys find that the public believes that a father’s greatest role is to provide values to his children, followed by emotional support, discipline and income support. Public opinion ascribes roughly the same hierarchy of roles to mothers.

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