The Prevalence of Single Parent Families in America

It has been predicted that half of all American children born in the 1990s will spend some part of their childhood in single-parent homes. Figures available from the U.S. Bureau of the Census (which yielded all of the statistics presented here) indicate that the percent of American homes that were single parent in composition increased dramatically from 1970 (when 18.5% of homes were single parent) to 1999 (27.7%).

Such increases are accounted for by rising divorce rates (5.7% of first-time marriages ended in divorce in 1970, while 18.5% of such marriages ended in divorce in 1998) and an increase in the number of women who give birth to or adopt children outside of marital relationships. Women giving birth outside of marital relationships include adolescent mothers and increasing numbers of older, more affluent (and predominantly white) women, who have elected to become single parents through either out-of-marriage births or adoption. Such women are called single mothers by choice.

There are ethnic differences in the prevalence of single-parent families. In 1999 the rate of single-parent families among black families was 56 percent; among Hispanic families, 32 percent; and among white families, 20 percent. Higher rates of black single-parent families result from higher rates of out-of-marriage adolescent childbearing within this group and higher divorce rates among black women.

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