Forty-four percent of single mothers have never been married. This is 11 times the percent of never-married single mothers in 1960.
The Pew Research Center reports:
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.
The percent of unwed births also grew dramatically over the same period. Today, over 40 percent of all children are born to single women, compared with less than 10 percent in 1960.
Children raised in single-parent homes are much more likely to live in poverty or struggle with other problems that take a toll on their ability to thrive.
Of course, other trends such as a high divorce rate—although the divorce rate has declined since its peak in the 1980s—have implications for children’s and society’s well-being.
Today, less than half (46 percent) of American children who reach age 17 have been raised by their continuously married, biological parents. This is taking a toll. Children do best when raised by their married mother and father. They are at lower risk of engaging in substance abuse, delinquent behavior, and early sexual activity, and they are less likely to drop out of high school or suffer abuse.
Today, most of the breakdown of the American family is happening in low-income and working-class neighborhoods, but many of these men and women desire to get married. Yet without the social support, it often is an elusive dream.
Fortunately, policymakers can take steps to encourage and support healthy marriage. For example, simply explaining the importance of marriage for adult and child well-being would be a good first step in helping to prevent unwed childbearing. Single mothers and fathers desire to be good parents, and marriage is crucial to help their children thrive. Similarly, providing marriage education in high schools where high proportions of youth are at-risk for unwed childbearing and providing marriage education to low-income individuals and cohabiting couples—a large portion of single mothers are actually cohabiting with the child’s father at the time of the birth—could help these individuals achieve their dreams of a healthy marriage.
Healthy marriages and families are fundamental to the well-being of children and adults, as well as to creating and maintaining a strong economy.
Despite these sobering trends, policymakers can take steps to help encourage healthy marriages and families. Leaders at every level of society should seek to strengthen the key unit of society.