The number of fathers raising children on their own has increased dramatically in recent years, according to a Pew study released last week. The number of single-father households in the U.S. with minor children has increased from just over 1 percent in 1960 to 8 percent in 2011. That’s a ninefold increase, from less than 300,000 to more than 2.6 million. The number of single-mother households increased more than fourfold during that period, from 1.9 million in 1960 to 8.6 million in 2011. That means almost a quarter of single-parent, American households are headed by single fathers.
Among the single fathers included in the study, a little more than half are separated, divorced, widowed, or never married and are living without a cohabiting partner. A little more than 40 percent are living with a non-marital partner. Another 7 percent are married but living apart from their spouse.
Single fathers tend to be younger, less financially stable, and less educated than dads in two-parent households. Of single fathers, those who are cohabiting are even further disadvantaged and more likely to live in poverty.
Despite some similarities, Pew noted demographic differences between single-mother households and single-father households. Single fathers are more likely to be living with a cohabiting partner than single mothers. Single fathers tend to be better off financially and are far less likely to be below the poverty line—24 percent, compared to 43 percent of single mothers. Single fathers tend to be older than single mothers, while single mothers tend to be more educated.
Overall, according to the study, “two-thirds (67 percent) of households with children are headed by two married parents; in 1960, this share was 92 percent.”
The study listed a few possible reasons for the change, many of which also contributed to the decline of the nuclear family. Perhaps the most significant is the increase in out-of-wedlock births. In 2008, 41 percent of births were to unwed mothers, compared to only 28 percent in 1990, according to an earlier Pew study.
In addition, though divorce rates have leveled off in recent years, “some experts suggest that changes in the legal system have led to more opportunities for fathers to gain at least partial custody of children in the event of a breakup,” which means there are more likely to be single fathers taking care of children full time following a divorce.