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Research - Marriage - stats on marriage

Percent of Families With Children Headed by a Single Parent

The Percent of Families With Children Headed by a Single Parent rose steadily from the end of World War II until the mid-1990s before leveling off in recent years.
Two recent signs suggest, however, that the long-term increase may be coming to an end—or at least slowing down. The divorce rate (number of divorces per 1,000 population) has been falling steadily for more than a decade, and the percent of births to unmarried women has nearly stabilized since the mid-1990s (see Figure 6). The share of births to unmarried women rose from 28.0 percent in 1990 to 32.6 percent in 1994, but the rate has increased by less than 2 percentage points since 1994 and was 34.0 percent in 2002.
Despite the recent leveling off, the large number of children growing up in single-parent families remains a major concern among policymakers and the public. The number of families with children headed by a single parent rose from 9.2 million in 1996 to 9.7 million in 2001, and the percent of all families with children that were headed by a single parent rose from 27 percent in 1996 to 28 percent in 2001.
Much of the public interest is linked to the fact that children growing up in single-parent households typically do not have the same economic or human resources available as those growing up in two-parent families. About 40 percent of children in female-headed families were poor in 2002, compared to 8 percent of children in married-couple families. Only about one-third of female-headed families reported receiving any child support or alimony payments in 2001. Beyond poverty, children in divorced and single-parent families are at increased risk for “low measures of academic achievement (repeated grades, low marks, low class standing); increased likelihood of dropping out of high school; early childbearing; and increased levels of depression, stress, anxiety, and aggression.”123
The number of children living with a single father doubled during the 1990s, and many states now have official initiatives to promote responsible fatherhood. But some efforts to encourage the active involvement of divorced and unmarried fathers with their children might benefit from the recognizing that many so-called “Dead-Beat Dads” are more fairly characterized as “Dead-Broke Dads.” According to an Urban Institute study, nearly 30 percent of the 2.5 million poor non-custodial fathers they studied were incarcerated, while the remainder were either unemployed or earned an average of just $5,600 a year.124
Research by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation has found that nearly two-thirds of poor non-custodial fathers had child support orders for an amount more than half of their monthly income.125 Results of small-scale pilot programs to reach out to these fathers and alleviate the problems of huge child support arrears debt have shown increases both in the dollars received by custodial mothers and more time spent by these fathers with their children.126
While it is certainly true that the poverty rate for children in single-parent families is much higher than for those in married-couple families, many of the children of poor single parents would remain in or near poverty even if their parents were to marry. Because unmarried parents, on average, are younger and have less education than their married counterparts, research from the Princeton Fragile Families survey has found that even if the unmarried couples with young children in that study were to marry and both partners were to work outside the home, 28 percent would remain at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.127
Stepchildren in married-couple families experience many negative child outcomes at about the same rate as children in single-parent families. This underscores the fact that living in a married-couple family is not always a panacea for kids. Therefore, in terms of child outcomes, there is a critical distinction between children growing up in a married-couple family with two biological parents and those growing up in a married-couple family with stepparents. Nearly two-thirds of all children live with both biological parents, while 25 percent live in single-parent families, 8 percent are stepchildren in married-couple families, and 4 percent live with neither parent.128
In general, research suggests that children benefit when both parents are active in their lives regardless of marital status, but this is most likely to occur when parents are married.129
Implementing governmental efforts to reduce the number of single-parent families continues to be among the most fiercely debated components of U.S. social policy, in general, and the welfare reform agenda, in particular. The Bush administration’s plans for reauthorization of the welfare reform act included a requirement that states report specifi cally their activities to promote marriage. Some policy experts propose putting more money into funding experimental programs to encourage poor parents to marry.130 Opponents of these provisions cite concern that such incentive programs and media campaigns divert funds from direct support of poor families.131
Nationwide, the Percent of Families With Children Headed by a Single Parent increased slightly in the late 1990s—from 27 percent in 1996 to 28 percent in 2001. During this period, 7 states and the District of Columbia recorded a decrease in single-parent families. Seven other states reported no change in this measure, while the situation worsened in 36 states. In 2001, the Percent of Families With Children Headed by a Single Parent ranged from a low of 17 percent in Utah to a high of 36 percent in Louisiana and New Mexico.

graph of unmarried women in USA 1990 -2002

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