Understanding Single Parent Families: Types, Dynamics and Statistics

Updated August 24, 2021
little girl dancing with her mother

An increasing amount of single parents are raising children on their own and redefining what it means to be a family. Learn more about the dynamics of single-parent families, interesting statistics, and resources available to single parents.

Types of Single-Parent Families

In the United States, the number of single-parent homes has been rising, with about 23 percent, or one in four children living with one parent, compared to seven percent of children living with one parent throughout the rest of the world. It is estimated that about 13.6 million families in the U.S. today are single-parent families. The most common different types of single parents are:

  • Divorced parents
  • Widowed parents
  • Non-married parents who split up
  • Parents who are single by choice

Facts About Single-Parent Households

Parents become single parents by choice, or due to circumstances beyond their control. It is estimated that in 2019, 34 percent of children in America had a single parent. A vast majority of these children had single mothers compared to single fathers.

Divorced or Widowed Parents

Over the last decade, almost one in five U.S. mothers was single, and four percent of U.S. fathers were single. In 2019, approximately one million women got divorced, and 741,163 women experienced their first divorce.

In 2020, more than 557,000 children had widowed mothers and more than 110,000 had widowed fathers.

Single Parents by Choice

More and more people in the U.S. are choosing not to marry, and many become single parents by choice. There are many more options in which people who want to be parents can have children: fostering, adoption, surrogacy, or in-vitro fertilization (IVF). In fact, approximately half a million babies are born each year from IVF. Some interesting facts about single-parent families are:

Father and daughter playing

Challenges of Single-Parent Families

Some of the more prevalent challenges that single-parent families face can be divided into two main categories: finances and time for academic goals.


Some single-parent families are at a financial disadvantage due to having one rather than two incomes. In 2019, it is estimated that 29% of single-parent families were living below the poverty level. From 2017 to 2019, about 26 percent of single mothers received child support.

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected single-parent homes more than two-parent homes. Unemployment as a result of the pandemic has led to significant financial difficulties for single-parents. The pandemic has also led to a decline in access to healthcare. 30 percent of families reported missing a well-baby or well-child healthcare visit.

The pandemic has affected women more than men in terms of employment; and though more people are now starting to return to work, it is at a slower rate for women compared to men. Various single mothers have shared their stories about pandemic-related stress and what they have done to cope.

Achieving Academic Goals

While many single parents have viewed education as a way of providing a better life and future for themselves and their children, lack of financial resources and support from the academic environment, and the stress of managing all responsibilities can make achieving a degree especially challenging.

Thirty-eight community college students who were also single parents were surveyed and interviewed in one study. It found that these students needed mental health care, since mental health is something that affected all aspects of their lives. It was also discovered that these students had a lack of college predecessors, and therefore needed meaningful mentorship and active instruction on how to balance all their responsibilities. The third main identified necessity for these students was affordable and reliable childcare.

Nine single-parent doctoral students have reported that they use time management skills, coping strategies, and internal motivators to persist academically. Online doctoral programs specifically allowed them to better balance their responsibilities and achieve their goal of a doctoral degree.

Helpful Resources for Single Parents

The following are great resources for single parents seeking support:

  • Support groups for single parents can provide guidance, ideas, and emotional support from other single parents.
  • These tips for single parents are helpful for self-care, communication, and life management tasks.
  • Parents Without Partners is an international non-profit organization for single parents.
  • Single Parent Advocate has links and resources related to schooling, food, finances, health, and careers and employment.

Parenting can be the most rewarding yet difficult job there is. Therefore, it is also common for parents of all types to seek counseling or therapy. Whether it is adjusting to family structure changes, dealing with stress, or mental health concerns for your children or yourself, seeking the help of a counselor can help you reach your goals.

Redefining Family

As societal norms and values have evolved, so has the definition of family. Family structures, including single-parent families, have changed over the years, and continue to shift. As a result, there is a greater ability for people to create their own families in ways that are best for them and their kids.

Understanding Single Parent Families: Types, Dynamics and Statistics