Single parents worldwide: Statistics and trends

Single parents were very common in the 17th and 18th centuries. The most common cause: death of a parent. Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of all children in this era experienced the death of a parent during childhood.

Since then, medical advances and improvements in sanitation and maternal care have significantly reduced mortality of people in reproductive age. Thankfully, the death of a parent is now a much less common cause of single parenting. Divorce, accidental pregnancies and single parenting by choice are now the leading reasons for the rising number of single parents.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2014):

  • 17% of children aged 0-14 live in single parent households worldwide
  • Women head approximately 88% of these households
  • Contrary to popular belief, the majority of single parents are employed
Countries with the highest percentage of children aged 0-14 living with a single parent (OECD, 2014)

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The largest increases in single parent households have been in industrialized countries. Denmark and the United Kingdom have the highest percentage of single parents. The highest percentages of single fathers were in Denmark, Sweden, France and the US, although single mothers far outnumber them.

Single parents in the United States

Single parents have more than tripled as a share of American households since 1960.

According to the 2016 census:

  • 27% of children under 18 live in single parent households in the US
  • 80% of these households are headed by single mothers
  • More than 23% of American children are being raised without a father
  • 4% of children are raised without their mother

Two-thirds of American single parent households are white, 1/3 are African-American and 1/4 are Hispanic. One-third have a college degree and 1/6 have not completed high school.

Marital status of American single mothers:

  • 49% were never married
  • 30% are divorced
  • 17% are separated
  • 3.5% are widowed
  • 42% have one child and 32% have two children.

About 60% of single mothers in the US live in poverty. Only 29% of single mothers ever received child support, and the average per month received by these mothers was $432.

Marital status of American single fathers:

  • 38% were never married
  • 40% of single fathers are divorced
  • 16% are separated
  • 6% are widowed
  • 56% have one child and 29% have two children

Single fathers are more likely to be divorced than single mothers, who are more likely to never have been married.

Single parents in Canada

According to the 2016 census, 19.2% of all Canadian children live with single parents. Of these, 81.3% of these children live with their mothers and 18.7% live with their fathers.

The likelihood of living with a single parent family increases with the child’s age:

  • 12.1% of children younger than 1 year of age were living in a single parent family, and 87.1% were living with their mother.
  • 22.8% of children aged 10-14 years were living with a single parent. Among this older group of children, 79.4% were living with their mother and 20.6% with their father.

In 2016, there were significant differences among the provinces and territories in the proportions of children living in a single parent family. In general, immigrants to Canada are less likely than non‑immigrants to have children outside marriage or to get divorced. The provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have attracted more immigrants in the past than other regions of Canada and therefore have lower percentages of children living in single parent households.

Percentage of children living in single parent families by province

  • Nova Scotia: 26%
  • New Brunswick: 24.3%
  • Nunavut: 23.9%
  • Yukon: 23%
  • Northwest Territories: 22.3%
  • Prince Edward Island: 22.1%
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 22.1%
  • Saskatchewan: 22.1%
  • Manitoba: 20.9%
  • Quebec: 19.6%
  • Ontario: 19%
  • British Columbia: 17.8%
  • Alberta: 16.1%

Rising numbers of single parents

The number of single parent households is rising, especially in industrialized countries. Single parenting is typically more socially acceptable in industrialized nations. Families in developing countries sometimes live in multigenerational households and may also only have one parent living with them.

However, higher reported percentages of single parents in industrialized countries could be due to under-representation of single parents in reports from developing countries. Many industrialized countries had no available data in the OECD report including Norway, Belgium, New Zealand, Iceland and Finland, which also under-represents of single parents.

Considering that almost one-third of children in many countries are raised by single mothers, it is relatively difficult to find detailed data on single parents trends and statistics, whether it be worldwide or nationally.

21 Responses

  1. sdf

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  2. No surprise seeing New Zealand, Ireland, Canada & USA in the top 4 with UK close behind. In countries where women can still gain the financial benefit of having a male in their life while being encouraged to be childishly independent (false independence reliant on a male host or the tax-payer).
    A great number of women choose single life as it is easier than adult compromise required in a relationship, while still being allowed to fulfill their urge to reproduce (thus satisfying the govt, as they want growth) it’s far easier to stamp ones feet and use your bouncer (the state) to turn out the pockets of the man you trapped but don’t actually want or care about. It’s a common story I see all over and I’m just glad it wasn’t me.


      1. Ben B.

        Spaced-Out Scientist. It totally get it I have no idea what happened between you and the father of your child. But I will say this once a woman separates from a man a man still has the legal burden of paying child support in 96% of all divorce and separation cases in the United States, even though women only initiate divorce in 70% of cases. My landscapper is highly involved with his son, he picks him up everyday from school, has him at his house three days a week, coaches his football team, and stays involved with his son inspite of his government forcing him to pay $1,000 a month in child support. His wife is now married to wealthy businessman and she is not forced to pay a penny in child support. What would be fair or equalitarian would be to force them both to pay 50%. Since they both have shared custody. But could you imagine the uproar from feminist groups if women were forced to pay there equal share of child custody especially in shared custody cases? Why is the force of government only used on father’s? Do mother’s and the government think men are only good for there money?
        My question to you is why is only the father forced to pay child support and why especially in America do men only win 13% of child support cases and even when they win only 4% of women are forced to pay child support. The courts say they do not have bias towards women yet the numbers reflect this fact by a wide margin. The courts are basically saying men are incapable of raising kids but they don’t hesitate to force them to pay child support almost entirely at the behest of the mother. Then in many divorce proceedings do women not also get half of the money of the estate? Yet are almost never forced to pay child support as well even in joint or shared custody? Why does the law only do this to men?
        I don’t know if this is the case as well in Canada. I am sure you are a hard working and wonderful lady. But you can not deny that Family Courts obviously favor the mother in the fact that men almost never win child custody cases. Men tend to be the bread winners so I guess there is also added incentive to get them to be the only one’s paying child custody payments. If they can’t make child custody payments they can be thrown in jail as well. Now, granted women are obviously more naturally inclined to taking care of kids. But then why are bad mothers not punished equally to bad fathers?


  3. About two thirds are White, one third Black, one quarter Hispanic. One third have a college degree, while one sixth have not completed high school.—

    Your stats on the racial proportions of Single parent households isn’t appear correct from my research and the sheer population size of the white race in the US.


    1. Chrystal

      Do you have an idea how we can get help for single parents who are just trying to make it?? I’m a single mom the father walked out and signed over his rights wants nothing to do with us. I’m working on my Master’s and just trying to make it. I’m in the USA. Color of the skin should not matter. What matters is I’m not drinking or doing drugs. I work 40hrs a week and school at Night. What do we need to do to make a change??


  4. I totally agree when you said that single-parents in America have been increasing at least three times before. Actually, I know a lot in our area who are single mothers. One of them is my best friend, and she has been asking me for help because her financial status is not that good. She wasn’t even able to finish college because of the expenses of having a baby. So I hope she finds an organization that can help her.


    1. Chrystal

      That is what I’m trying to start? I am a single mom in school. There needs to be something to help single parents who are wanting to better their child’s life and theirs


  5. Anonymous

    i think New Zealand which has no data on this because of pandering by state census to non discrimination has the highest rate of solo parents.. maybe as high as 40% or more. its an indictment on the welfare state and our education system- children are now being taught its “ok” and of new novel families. ITs not ok.. children are entitled to a mother and father, their own mum and dad… exceptions of course but by deliberate attempt to re-engineer the family or society


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