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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, 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, 2011), 15% of children live in single parent households worldwide, and women head approximately 85% of these households. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of single parents are employed.

English speaking countries have the highest proportion of single parent households (above 20%). The largest increases in single parent households have been in industrialized countries.

The countries with the highest percentage of single parents are:

  • The United States: 25.8%
  • Ireland: 24.3%
  • New Zealand: 23.7%
  • Canada: 22.1%
  • The United Kingdom: 21.5%

However, these statistics may be flawed. High single parent rates in industrialized, English speaking countries could be due to the fact that that there are better reporting methods in these countries, and single parenting is more socially acceptable.

Families outside of these industrialized, English speaking countries often live in multi-generational households and may also only have one parent living with them.

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Single parents in the United States

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

According to the 2012 census, 25.9% of children under 18 live in single parent households in the US, and women head approximately 84% of these families.

Of all single-parent families, the most common are those headed by:

  • Divorced or separated mothers: 58%
  • Never-married mothers: 24%
  • Widows: 7%
  • Divorced and separated fathers: 8.4%
  • Never-married fathers: 1.5%
  • Widowers: 0.9%

22% of American single parent households are white, 57% are African-American, and 33% are Hispanic.

Single parents in Canada

According to the 2011 census, 19.3 % of all Canadian children lived with single parents. 82.3% of these children live with single mothers.

Since 2011, Canada has ended its long-form census and accurate, more recent data is not available.

Statistics are under-representing single parents

The number of single parent households is rising, especially in industrialized countries. However, current and accurate data is difficult to obtain, and it is likely that the number of single parent households is under-represented by the available data, especially in developing countries.

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