August 16, 2013

More of today’s single mothers have never been married


More than four-in-ten single mothers have never been married, up from just 4% in 1960.

Today’s single mothers are much more likely to have never been married than were their counterparts in the past.

In 1960, of all single mothers, more than eight-in-ten (82%) were divorced, separated or widowed. An additional 14% were married, but their spouses were not living in the household. Only 4% of all single mothers had never been married.

By 2011, the share of single mothers who had never been married had reached 44%, while half of all single mothers were divorced, separated or widowed, and 6% had an absent spouse.

These patterns are tied to broader long-term trends in non-marital births and divorce. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics (pdf), the share of births to unmarried women rose to 41% in 2010 from 5% in 1960. And a recent Census Bureau report (pdf) shows that in 2011, 36% of mothers who gave birth in the preceding year were unmarried; a majority of these women (87%) had never been married.

The share of mothers who are divorced, separated or widowed increased in the 1960s and 1970s and has remained relatively stable since 1980, hovering around 12% to 13% in the past three decades.

In the past five decades, the share of never married mothers among all families with children has increased from less than 1% to 11%.

Category: Daily Number

  1. Photo of Andrea Caumont

    is the social media editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. C P4 years ago

    Is there a corresponding study on absentee fathers? How about single fathers raising their kids alone?
    If we could find them, would there be comments accusing them reproducing irresponsibly? Or would we applaud what great dads they are for raising their kids all alone?
    Is it just me, or does anyone else notice how seldom men are held accountable for their offspring’s emotional and economical well-being?
    Are there any statistics about the religious affiliations of those having children?
    Every answer to these questions prompts still more questions…

  2. ALC4 years ago

    I would like to know the cultural background of the single mothers as well. That might provide further insight.

    1. Andrea Caumont4 years ago

      There is a demographic breakdown (age, race, education) of single mothers included in this section of the report:…

      Including this chart: