Single-Parent Families

September 10, 1976

Report Outline
Increase in One-Parent Homes
American Families in Transition
The Public Policy Implications
Special Focus

Increase in One-Parent Homes

Impact of Rising Divorce Rate on Family Units

The problems of the American family and what the government can do toward solving them have become a popular theme in this year's presidential campaign. Typical of his comments about home and family, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter told a group of supporters in Manchester, N.H., on Aug. 3: “There can be no more urgent priority for the next administration than to see that every decision our government makes is designed to honor and support and strengthen the American family.” The Republican Party Platform, adopted in Kansas City two weeks later, expressed similar sentiments. “It is imperative,” the Republicans stated, “that our government's programs, actions, officials and social welfare institutions never be allowed to jeopardize the family.”

Policies of the federal government relating to the family traditionally have been geared to the needs of the two-parent or nuclear family, with a working father, a homemaking mother and dependent children. Only recently has the government begun to respond to the actual and growing variety of American family lives, including the tremendous growth in the number of families headed by women who work. One of the most significant changes in family structure in recent years has been the increase in the number of children living with only one parent. Over 11 million children—more than one out of every six children under age 18—live in single-parent homes. Since 1960 the number of such families has grown seven times as fast as the number of two-parent families. By 1975, there were 4.9 million one parent families in the United States—up from 3.26 million in 1970.

Most Americans raising their children alone are women. Of the 4.9 million single-parent families, 4.4 million were headed by women. The number of children living in homes where the father was absent more than doubled from 1960 to 1975. Today, approximately 15 per cent of all families with children under 18 are headed by single mothers. This trend has been particularly pronounced among black families—more than 40 per cent of all black children live in homes where the father is absent. Behind this growth in one-parent families is the explosive rise in the divorce rate, which doubled in the past decade. There were over one million divorces in the United States in 1975—a record high. If the current divorce rate continues, three out of every five couples who marry this year will not remain together.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Marriage, Divorce, and Single Parents
Dec. 01, 2017  Future of Marriage
May 07, 2004  Future of Marriage
Jan. 19, 2001  Children and Divorce
Jun. 02, 2000  Fatherhood Movement
May 10, 1996  Marriage and Divorce
Jan. 13, 1995  Child Custody and Support
Jun. 07, 1991  Children and Divorce
Oct. 26, 1990  Child Support: Payments, Progress and Problems
Jul. 06, 1990  Are Americans Still in Love with Marriage?
Feb. 03, 1989  Joint Custody: Is it Good for the Children?
Mar. 12, 1982  Trends in Child Custody and Support
Jun. 03, 1977  The Changing American Family
Sep. 10, 1976  Single-Parent Families
Jan. 25, 1974  Child Support
Oct. 10, 1973  No-Fault Divorce
Oct. 06, 1971  Marriage: Changing Institution
Nov. 27, 1963  Divorce Law Reform
May 24, 1961  Mixed Marriage
Apr. 20, 1959  Rise in Illegitimacy
Feb. 02, 1949  Marriage and Divorce
Marriage and Divorce