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May 1994, Vol. 117, No. 5
s ingle-parent families are an increasing proportion of all family groups with children. The percentage of family groups with at least one child under age 18 in the home and maintained by a single parent rose from 13 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 1992, and most (86 percent) were maintained by mothers.1 It is estimated that half of all children will reside in a single-parent family at some time before they reach age16, for an average period of 6 years.2
In addition to the increase in single-parent families during the past two decades, there has been a dramatic shift in the marital status of single mothers. (See chart 1.) In 1970, 69 percent of single-mother families were maintained by divorced or separated women, 23 percent by widows, and 8 percent by never-married women. By 1992, the proportion of single-mother families maintained by divorced, separated, or widowed women decreased, while those maintained by never-married women increased dramatically (to 38 percent).3
This study examines the economic status of single-mother families by the mothers' marital status, focusing on income and expenditures. Different routes to single parenthood have varying economic implications for families. Families maintained by divorced/separated, never-married, and widowed women also are compared with the married-couple families to determine the extent of differences by family type.
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1 Steve W. Rawlings, Household and Family Characteristics: March 1992, Current Population Reports, P20-467, (Washington, Bureau of the Census, April 1993, p. xii). Some of the increase in the number of single-parent family groups over this time, an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent, is attributable to technical improvements in survey data coding procedures introduced in the 1980's, which allowed for better identification of certain types of single parents. For more detail see, Marital Status and Living Arrangements: March 1984, Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 399 (Washington, Bureau of the Census, July 1985).
2 Larry L. Bumpass, "Children and marital disruption: A replication and update," Demography, February 1984, pp. 71-82.
3 Rawlings, Household and Family Characteristics.
A family maintained by a single woman of a particular marital status may not necessarily originate from this status. For example, a woman who gave birth while never married, subsequently married, then divorced, would be categorized as a divorced single mother. Likewise, a divorced woman who gave birth after the divorce also would be categorized as a divorced single mother. It is only in the case of never-married women with children that single parenthood formation would correspond to marital status.
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