It’s no surprise that the U.S. has a high number of single parent families with children, as divorce, single-person adoption, trends to delay marriage, and choosing to start a family without a partner becomes increasingly common. But a new study shows that the U.S. actually has the highest rate in the world.
A Pew Research Center study found that in the U.S. nearly a quarter of children under the age of 18 live in a single parent household, more than any of the 130 other countries and territories they surveyed. Around the world, the average rate of single parenthood is 7 percent, which is under a third of the rate in the U.S. Over 80 percent of American kids in single-parent households live with their mother only—and that trend is growing.
One factor that seems to play into the high rates of single parent households in the U.S. is the lack of multi-generational households. Very few U.S. families live with additional family members, a common practice in other countries. The study found that only 8 percent of kids in U.S. households live with relatives like aunts, uncles and grandparents—30 percent less than the average across other countries.
There’s good news
U.S. single parenthood rates are thought to be a sign of economic security. According to the study, families are able to live with fewer family members in each home because living with additional adults in the home isn’t necessary for survival. In areas with less financial growth families live together out of necessity. Everyone needs to do their part to complete chores, earn an income and provide childcare. In the United States and other areas with higher rates of single parenthood, more families are able to choose single parent life because they are able to afford it—a luxury not available to everyone.
The Pew report offers insight into their findings: “Around the world, living in extended families is linked with lower levels of economic development. Financial resources stretch further and domestic chores such as childcare are more easily accomplished when shared among several adults living together.”
However, there are also many challenges
While fewer multi-generational households overall might be tied to generally wealthier societies, the individual picture in single parent homes may be different. As of 2018 the poverty rate for single-mother families was 34 percent, nearly five times more than the rate of 6 percent for married couple families.
Financial strain carries burdens all its own, but single parents face other challenges, too. According to the American Psychological Association, single parents face stress caused by juggling all the responsibilities of childcare, household maintenance, and holding down a job alone. They might also struggle with stressors like custody conflicts, a lack of personal time, and effects on the children from changes to their home life. Almost one third of single mother households were food insecure as of the 2020 census, and 13 percent had no health insurance coverage—both of which can add significantly to parents’ stress levels.
What families can do
First of all, if you’re a single parent, remember that caring for yourself is caring for your child. Take time whenever you can to nurture yourself and recharge—whether for you that means a few quiet minutes with a cup of tea and a magazine, going on an invigorating run, or calling a friend. You can also try these strategies for combating the stress of single parenthood.
If, on the other hand, you know single parents in your social network or neighborhood and would like to support them—especially during the pandemic—we also have 11 realistic ways for you to lend a hand.