It’s not a race issue, it’s a poverty issue: Single motherhood

Single motherhood has been on the rise since the 1960s.

Adjust for the percentage of the population

On the surface, it appears that single motherhood hits white families the hardest, but when you adjust for the percentage of the population it looks like black families are hit the hardest.

While whites make up 76.3% of the population, their single mother rates account for only 40%. Whereas blacks make up 13.4% of the population, but their single mother rate is 30%. Finally, Hispanics make up 18.5% of the population and their single motherhood rate is 24%. So clearly blacks are the most impacted by single motherhood, but why?

Adjust for poverty rates

When we adjust for poverty rates, it becomes more clear why blacks and Hispanics are more impacted by single motherhood. The single motherhood spread mirrors the poverty spread between the races.

Poverty by Ethnicity

If you take into account poverty rates, then you start to see that the single motherhood rate is closely tied to the poverty rate. Nearly two in five (38%) of Black female-headed families lived in poverty, Hispanic (38%), White (28%), and Asian (29%).

So what are the effects of single motherhood?

There have been a lot of studies done throughout time about the effects of single motherhood. Let’s look at a few of the findings.

One income is usually less than two

The cost of living keeps rising and with one income it’s going to be harder and harder to make ends meet. Two incomes provide a larger safety net and a chance to save.

Single mothers are much more likely to be poor than married couples. The poverty rate for single-mother families in 2018 was 34%, nearly five times more than the rate (6%) for married-couple families.

National Women’s Law Center

Single motherhood is intrinsically linked to poverty.

Single mothers are more likely to come from poor backgrounds which in turn tend to be less educated backgrounds.

There is a term, “generational curses,” that covers the idea of curses being handed down through generations. A generational curse is poverty. Children born to single mothers are more likely to grow up poor, attend lower-quality schools, be less educated, be poor as adults, and to be single mothers themselves if they are a girl.

Having a father in the house contributes to upward mobility

In a study by Raj Chetty, he found that having a father in the house was much better for children’s upward mobility. This held true when he controlled for schools available, race, and parental income.

In another study, David Author and David Figlio found similar results. That even when neighborhoods and schools were taken into consideration, it was determined they were less influential than the family structure.

Having a father in the house can help to break the generational curses of single motherhood and poverty.

Childcare is a challenge

Childcare isn’t just a challenge for single mothers, it’s a challenge for everyone. But it’s a bigger one for single mothers. Nationally the annual cost of center-based infant care averaged over 40% of the state median income for a single mother. About 32% for a school-age child.


There is an argument that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s true that a child will have many influencers throughout their life, but ultimately, it’s the direct family that is the most influential in shaping a child’s identity.

With only one parent, a child doesn’t get the benefit of the second parent. With only a single mother, a child doesn’t get the benefit of a father. I think a father is important in a child’s growth. Children raised in families without them are facing an identity crisis.

Single motherhood is an environmental dynamic influencing children’s gender identity

A Danish study from 2006, “Childhood Family Correlates of Heterosexual and Homosexual Marriages: A National Cohort Study of Two Million Danes” discusses this idea.

Heterosexual marriage was significantly linked to having young parents, small age differences between parents, stable parental relationships, large numbers of siblings, and late birth order. Children who experience parental divorce are less likely to marry heterosexually than those growing up in intact families. For men, same-sex marriage was associated with having older mothers, divorced parents, absent fathers, and being the youngest child. For women, maternal death during adolescence and being the only or youngest child or the only girl in the family increased the likelihood of same-sex marriage.

The children of single mothers commit more crime

Let’s take a look at the data.

States with a lower percentage of single-parent families, on average, will have lower rates of juvenile crime. State-by-state analysis indicates that, in general, a 10 percent increase in the number of children living in single-parent homes (including divorces) accompanies a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime. On the contrary, children of intact married families are the least likely to engage in serious violent delinquency compared to children of single-mother, single-father, and mother-stepfather families.

Read more here

But these youth are also more likely to be poor than their peers as we discussed earlier, which would more likely put them in low performing public education systems that would also contribute to an environment that was conducive to high crime rates.

It’s about the rule, not the exceptions

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. There are wealthy single parents. There are amazing single parents from all economic backgrounds who raise exceptional children. But those are the exceptions. The rule is that a child is better off with both parents in the household.

A child with two parents will be less likely to grow up poor, less likely to commit crime, and less likely to be poor in adulthood. Whereas a child with a single parent will be more likely to grow up poor, more likely to commit crime, and more likely to be poor in adulthood.

If we can reduce poverty, we can start to reduce the single motherhood rate, which in turn will help further reduce the poverty rate.

One thought on “It’s not a race issue, it’s a poverty issue: Single motherhood

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