Americans are more likely than they were three years ago to say single women raising children on their own and couples living together without being married are bad for society, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2021. On both, the change has occurred more among Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party than Democrats and Democratic leaners. Views on these family arrangements vary across many demographic lines.

A bar chart showing that nearly half of Americans now say single women raising children on their own is bad for society

Some 47% of U.S. adults say single women raising children on their own is generally a bad thing for society, an increase of 7 percentage points from the 40% who said the same in a 2018 Center survey. A smaller share (43%) says it doesn’t make a difference, and just 10% of adults say it is good for society.

The share of births to unmarried women has remained relatively stable over the past decade, after increasing steadily from 1980 to around 2009. In 2020, that share was 41%, about double the percentage from 40 years ago.

Views on single motherhood differ somewhat by race and ethnicity. About half of White and Asian adults (49% each) say single women raising children alone is bad for society, compared with a smaller share of Hispanic adults (39%). Some 46% of Black adults say the same. Since 2018, White adults have had the largest increase in the share saying this is bad for society – up 8 points from 41%. Among Black and Hispanic adults, the shares saying single women raising children on their own is bad for society didn’t change significantly from 2018. The sample size for Asian adults in 2018 was not large enough to analyze separately.

This Pew Research Center analysis focuses on two questions that were part of a longer battery of items looking at how the public assesses a variety of societal trends. These particular items sought to gauge whether Americans see the trends of single women raising children on their own and cohabitation as good or bad for society. To do this, we surveyed 9,676 U.S. adults from Oct. 18 to 24, 2021. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

A bar chart showing that older adults are more likely than young adults to say single motherhood is bad for society

Gender is strongly related to perspectives on single women raising children alone. A majority of men (59%) say single motherhood is bad for society, compared with 37% of women. In contrast, women are more likely than men to say women raising children on their own generally doesn’t make much of a difference for society (50% of women vs. 34% of men). However, the share of both men and women saying this is bad for society has increased since 2018 (up 9 points for men and 7 points for women).

There are also significant differences in these views across age groups. About half of adults ages 50 and older say single motherhood is bad for society, compared with 42% of those younger than 30 and 44% of 30- to 49-year-olds. 

Along party lines, about six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (62%) say single women raising children alone is bad for society, up from 53% in 2018. In contrast, 36% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this is bad for society, up 6 points from three years ago. Within each party, there are differences by gender. About three-quarters of Republican men (73%) say single women raising children on their own is bad for society, compared with half of Republican women. Among Democrats, 45% of men say this is generally bad for society; only 28% of Democratic women say the same.

When it comes to views on cohabitation, Americans are more likely than they were in 2018 to say that couples living together without being married is bad for society, even as cohabitation is on the rise. Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (24%) now say that couples living together without being married is generally bad for society, up 5 points from three years ago. A smaller share says it is good for society (14%). Still, a majority of Americans (62%) say it doesn’t make much of a difference.

A bar chart showing that views on cohabitation differ considerably by age, race and ethnicity, and partisanship

Views on cohabitation differ by race and ethnicity, gender, age and political affiliation. About one-third of Black adults say couples living together without being married is bad for society (32%), compared with about a quarter of White (25%) and Asian (24%) adults and 17% of Hispanic adults. Since 2018, opinions shifted the most among Black adults, with an increase of 8 percentage points in the share saying cohabitation is bad for society. White adults had a smaller increase of 5 points, while views didn’t change significantly among Hispanic adults. The sample size for Asian adults in 2018 was not large enough to analyze separately.

There are modest differences in views by gender. Women are less likely than men to say cohabitation is bad for society (23% of women vs. 26% of men). This has changed from 2018, when equal shares of men and women (19% each) thought it was bad for society.

There are also large differences across age groups. Young adults ages 18 to 29 are the least likely to say couples living together without being married is bad for society (13% say this), while 28% say it is good for society. About one-in-five adults ages 30 to 49 (22%) say cohabitation is bad for society, and roughly a quarter of adults 50 to 64 (27%) say the same. Among those 65 and older, 35% say cohabitation is bad for society, while a mere 6% say it is generally good.  

Along party lines, Republicans and Republican leaners are more likely to say cohabitation is a bad thing for society than a good thing. Some 38% of Republicans say it is bad for society, and only 6% say it is a good thing. Democrats and Democratic leaners, on the other hand, are more likely to say it is good rather than bad. One-in-five Democrats say cohabitation is good for society, while 13% say it is generally bad. More than half in each party say it doesn’t make much of a difference. While opinions are largely unchanged since 2018 among Democrats, Republicans are more likely now than in 2018 to say it is bad for society (30% of Republicans said so in 2018).

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Kiley Hurst  is a research assistant focusing on social and demographic research at Pew Research Center.