Single Mother Statistics

Last updated: June 23, 2014 by Susan

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, single motherhood is now becoming the new “norm”.

This prevalence is due in part to the growing trend of children born outside marriage.

About 4 out 10 children were born to unwed mothers. Nearly two-thirds are born to mothers under the age of 30.1

Of all single-parent families in the U.S., single mothers make up the majority.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau,2

Out of 12 million single parent families in 2013, more than 80% were headed by single mothers.

Today, 1 in 3 children – a total of 15 million – are being raised without a father3 and nearly half live below the poverty line.

Statistics of Single Parent Families * (2013)


Single Mother Families


Single Father Families

* with child(ren) under 18

Around 45% of single mothers have never married, 55% are either divorced, separated or widowed.4 Half have one child, 30% have two.

About two thirds are White, one third Black, one quarter Hispanic. One quarter have a college degree, one sixth have not completed high school.


At any one time, about two thirds of single mothers are also working outside the home, a slightly greater share than the share of married mothers who are also working outside the home.

However, only two fifths of single mothers are employed full-time the entire year, and a quarter are jobless the entire year. Among those who are unemployed, only a quarter (24%) receives unemployment benefits.5

If a single mother is able to work, her earning power still lags significantly compared with men’s, about 78 cents to a $1 for the same job. The wage disparities are even greater for women of color — African-American women (62 cents), Hispanic (55 cents) and Latinas (53 cents).6


Single mothers earn incomes that place them well below married mothers in the income ladder. Half with an annual income less than $25,000.

A recent Census Bureau report shows that in 2012, the median income for families led by a single mother ($25,493) is only one third the median for married couple families ($81,455).7

Only one third of single mothers receive any child support, and the average amount these mothers receive is only about $400 a month.8


Single mothers are more likely to be poor than married couples. The poverty rate for single-mother families in 2012 was 40.9%, nearly five times more than the rate (8.9%) for married-couple families.9

Poverty rates were about one in two for Black (46.7%), Hispanic (48.6%), White (33.1%), and Asian (26.3%). Among all other ethnic groups, Native American female-headed families with children have the highest poverty rate (56.9%).

Nearly one in five children (21.9%), some 15.4 million, were poor with 47.2% of them now living in single-mother families, down from 47.6% in 2011.10 In contrast, among children living in married-couple families, 11.2% were counted as poor.


Two fifths of single mother families are “food insecure,”11 one seventh use food pantries, one third spend more than half their income on housing, which is generally considered the threshold for “severe housing cost burden.”

Single-parent families are among the poorest in the nation and as such, are extremely vulnerable to homelessness. Among all homeless families, 8 out of 10 are headed by single women with children; two fifths are African Americans (43%).12

Welfare & Food Stamp Receipt

Two fifths of all single mothers receive Food Stamps. Among children with single mothers, 41% get food stamps and 59% don’t.13

Although two fifths of all single mothers are poor, only one tenth of all single mothers receive TANF. Though a small percentage, they represent more than 90% of all TANF families.

Even for those who did receive assistance, the amount was far less than the minimum they’d need to to stave off hardship – like hunger, homelessness, and utility cut-offs.

TANF benefit levels for a family of three, as of 2010, were less than 30% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in all but eight states — and above 50% in none.14

Access to Health Care

Across all income levels, single parents are the group who are least likely to have life insurance, says a recent study by Genworth Financial and the University of Virginia.15

The study concludes that single parents with children living at home — majority of whom are headed by a woman — comprise the highest percentage of uninsured Americans (69%) compared to married parents with children living at home (45%).

Child Care Affordability

Nationally, the annual cost of center-based infant care averaged over 40% of the state median income for a single mother. About 32% for a school-age child.

In Oregon, Massachusetts and New York, a single mother of an infant ages 0-3 would have to pay more than half of her income for day care at a center.16


Single mothers often spend over half of their income on housing expenses and a third on child care, leaving them with less money for educational expenses.

Nearly two thirds (62%) have an expected family contribution (EFC) of zero compared to 20% of postsecondary students without children and 18% of married student parents.17

Without generous financial aid, single mother students – a total of 1.5 million – have little or no means to contribute financially to their educational expenses.

Compared to Single Mothers in Peer Countries

The majority of single mothers in the United States are separated, divorced or widowed; and they work more hours and yet have higher poverty rates than single mothers in other high-income countries.18

This is due to the fact that many employed single mothers are earning poverty wages. About 40% of U.S. single parents were employed in low-wage jobs — exceptionally high compared to single parents in peer countries.

If a single mother in the U.S. loses her job, she will find an unemployment insurance (UI) system that is less generous and more difficult to qualify for than it is in peer countries.

These along with less generous “safety net programs” and wage inequality among women help explain the exceptionally high poverty rate for single mother families in the U.S.

  1. CDC, Births: Preliminary Data for 2011, Table 7 []
  2. U.S. Census Bureau – Table FG10. Family Groups: 2013 []
  3. The Washington Times, Fathers Disappear from Households Across America []
  4. Source: FamilyFacts – Children living in mother-only households []
  5. The Nation – This Week in Poverty []
  6. National Women’s Law Center, Fair Pay for Women []
  7. U.S. Census Bureau – Table F10. Presence of Children Under 18 Years Old by Type of Family — Families by Median and Mean Income []
  8. Child Support: An Overview of Census Bureau Data on Recipients []
  9. National Women’s Law Center, “Poverty And Income Among Women And Families 2000-2012 []
  10. Federation of American Scientists – “Poverty in the United States: 2012” []
  11. Source: Economic Research Service/USDA – Household Food Security in the United States in 2011. Pg10 []
  12. the National Center on Family Homelessness – The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness. []
  13. Source: Legal Momentum, Worst-Off: Single-Parent Families in the United States. []
  14. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, TANF Benefits Are Not Enough to Meet Families’ Basic Needs []
  15. Source: Genworth Financial – Children of Single Parents at Greatest Risk to be Uninsured []
  16. SMG, Top 10 Least-Affordable States for Center-Based Infant Care in 2011 []
  17. Single Parent Student Statistics []
  18. Source: Worst-Off: Single-Parent Families in the United States - you can download the pdf report here. []