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Single-parent (also lone parent and sole parent) is a parent who cares for one or more children without the assistance of another parent in the home. "Single parenthood" may vary according to the local laws of different nations or regions.

Single parenthood may occur for a variety of reasons. It could be opted for by the parent (as in divorce, adoption, artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, or extramarital pregnancy), or be the result of an unforeseeable occurrence (such as death or abandonment by one parent).

The living and parenting arrangements of single parents are diverse. A number live in households with family or other adults. When parents separate, one party usually parents for the majority of the time but most continue to share parenting to some extent with the other parent.


In 2006, 12.9 million families in the U.S. were headed by a single-parent, 80% of which were headed by a female. Notable examples include singer Ricky Martin and US President Barack Obama. Since 1994, the percentage of US households headed by a single parent has remained steady at around nine percent, although it has nearly doubled since 1970.

In 2003, 14% of all Australian households were single-parent families. Since 2001, 31% of babies born in Australia were born to unmarried mothers. (Many of these mothers may not be single parents, as they may simply live with their supportive partners without getting formally married.)

In the United Kingdommarker, there are 5.9 million single parents as of 2005, with 3.1 million children. About 1 out of 4 families with dependent children are single-parent families, nine percent of which have a male single-parent. UK poverty figures show that 47% of single parent families are below the Government-defined poverty line (after housing costs).

In South Koreamarker, where societal disaproval of unmarried mothers is strong, 1.6% of births in 2007 were to unmarried women, and, of those women, 70% are estimated to have opted for adoption.


Single parent families are at a higher risk of poverty than couple families, and on average single mothers have poorer health than couple mothers.

Single parenting is strongly associated with an increased risk of a number of negative social, behavioral and emotional outcomes for children. However while the association is strong, on balance the effect size and the actual numbers affected are modest. Most children from single parent families do well. Many factors influence how children develop in single-parent families: the parent's age, education level, and occupation; the family's income, and the family's support network of friends and extended family members (including the non-resident parent, if available). Disadvantages in these factors that often accompany single parenting appear to cause most of this association rather than single parenting itself.

Shocking headlines do get published; for example a 2003 Swedishmarker study, stated that those living with a single parent were about three times more likely to kill themselves or end up in the hospital after an attempted suicide by the age of 26 than children living with two parents, however this only happened to 2.2 percent of girls and 1 percent of boys. The finding is concerning, also because it implies greater childhood unhappiness amongst those who do not kill themselves before the age of 26. The question naturally follows, do older offspring kill themselves at an increased rate?

A variety of viewpoints do exist, with different readings of the research possible. The Institute for the Study of Civil Society reports that children of single parents, after controlling for other variables like family income, are more likely to have problems. There are impacts of sole parenting on children, however the weight of the evidence it is suggested, do not appear to support a view that sole parents are a major cause of societal ills and are doing irreparable damage to their children.. Yet suicide is irreparable damage, and less visible damage may also be termed irreparable, in terms of emotional, social or behavioural outcomes if they last for the duration of a life, or increase anti-social behaviour.

Assistance and help

A common way for single parents to seek and receive help is over the Internet by conversing with other single parents in similar situations. There are various websites available, offering discussion forums and helpful advice to those parents who find themselves alone. iVillage, and other communities offer chat boards for pregnant mothers and single parents through each stage of child development.

Choice parent

A choice parent is a parent who voluntarily becomes a single parent to a biologic child from the very beginning, rather than by a later separation from a partner. Sometimes, it also includes becoming a single parent by adoption.

A woman may voluntarily become a choice parent by artificial insemination or use of a cervical cap conception device with donor sperm. In many countries, e.g. Swedenmarker this is prohibited. Swedes, however, may go to Denmarkmarker, where it is legal to have an insemination. Women who choose insemination or adoption to become parents are also referred to as "choice mums" or "choice mothers". These women, many of whom are over 35, tend to be educated, career women. Children of this group of single moms are less likely to be at risk of poverty.

People who are striving to become single parents may be termed choice mum aspirers or tryers, while people who are seriously thinking about doing going through the procedure may be termed choice mum considerers or thinkers.

A small but growing number of men also choose to become single parents, and they may be referred to as "choice fathers". It is achieved through surrogacy. Most of the men are gay, but some are straight. Notable examples include singer Ricky Martin.

In history and fiction

There have been several famous single parents who were also actors, vocalists, and politicians. Murphy Brown, one famous fictional character in the sitcom of the same name, was a career woman working in a TV news firm. She became pregnant and had a baby in the comedy series' fourth season. The character's decisions became a nation-wide interest when she was referred to by several US family values-oriented politicians, including then-vice president, Dan Quayle, who openly criticized the show during a 1992 speech in San Francisco.

Other examples include:

Public policy debate

Single parents have often been the focus of public policy debate. The debate has included both practical considerations around the role of government in their support, and moral ones in response to the decline of the traditional family. The moral debate tends to divide between liberal and conservative positions with liberals welcoming or accepting the changes in family structures, while conservatives decry the declines in marriage and the rises in divorce and cohabitation. The policy debate also tends to split along similar lines with fiscal conservatives emphasizing a minimal role for government and an employment focus, while liberals tend to support more government involvement in an attempt to minimize poverty.

See also


  1. Callister, Paul and Burks, Stuart (2006) "Two Parents, Two Households: New Zealand data collection, language and complex parenting" Family Commission (accessed February 18, 2008)
  2. (pdf)
  3. The Bachelor Life Includes a Family By MIREYA NAVARRO. Published: September 5, 2008
  4. Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, US Department of Health and Human Services - Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections: Family Structure
  5. "Single Parents" (accessed October 9, 2006)
  6. As of 2004. Office for National Statistics - Focus on Families
  7. As of 2004. Labour Force Survey - Focus on Families; see table 1.2
  8. "One Parent Families Today: The Facts" (2005), One Parent Families, London
  9. Labour Market Review (2006), Office for National Statistics
  10. households2005-final.xls2005 Office for National Statistics - General Household Survey; see table 3.6
  11. 2005/06 Department for Work and Pensions
  12. Choe Sang-Hun. (October 7, 2009). " Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers." The New York Times.
  13. Millar, Jane and Ridge, Tess (2001) "Families, Poverty, Work and Care: A review of literature on lone parents and low income couple families" (DWP Research Report No.153)
  14. Rickard, Maurice "Children of Lesbian and Single Women Parents" Research Note no. 41 2001-02, Social Policy Group, Parliament of Australia (accessed February 18, 2008)
  15. Mackay, Ross (2005) "The impact of family structure and family change on child outcomes: a personal reading of the research literature"Social Policy Journal of New Zealand (accessed February 18, 2008)
  16. The Lancet, January 25, paraphrased by CBS News' Emma Ross, "Single-Parent Kids More At Risk"
  17. Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family
  18. Single Mothers By Choice
  19. The Bachelor Life Includes a Family By MIREYA NAVARRO. Published: September 5, 2008
  20. McQueen, Michael. Quayle's Criticisms Of `Murphy Brown' Send Sparks Flying --- Pregnancy on Sitcom Proves Fertile Ground for Debate Over Values and Abortion. Wall Street Journal. May 21, 1992.

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