Both mothers and fathers play important roles in the growth and development of children. The number and the type of parents (e.g., biological, step) in the household, as well as the relationship between the parents, are consistently linked to a child’s well-being.  (Nationally representative data on adoptive families are relatively new, and warrant a separate treatment. Data on children with same-gender parents are even more limited, at this point, than data on children with adoptive parents.)
Among young children, for example, those living with no biological parents, or in single-parent households, are less likely than children with two biological parents to exhibit behavioral self-control, and more likely to be exposed to high levels of aggravated parenting, than are children living with two biological parents. Children living with two married adults (biological or adoptive parents) have, in general, better health, greater access to health care, and fewer emotional or behavioral problems than children living in other types of families.
Among children in two-parent families, those living with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage tend to do better on a host of outcomes than those living in step-parent families. Outcomes for children in step-parent families are in many cases similar to those for children growing up in single-parent families., Children whose parents are divorced also have lower academic performance, social achievement, and psychological adjustment than children with married parents. Reliance on kin networks (for example, living with grandparents) can provide social and financial support for some families, particularly single-parent families. However, the evidence suggests that children who live in households with single mothers in some cases fare better, and in other cases worse, when also living with a grandparent.
Single-parent families tend to have much lower incomes than do two-parent families, while cohabiting families fall in-between. Research indicates, however, that the income differential only partially accounts for the negative effects on many areas of child and youth well-being (including health, educational attainment and assessments, behavior problems, and psychological well-being) associated with living outside of a married, two-parent family.,
Between 1960 and 1996, the proportion of all children under age 18 who were living with two married parents decreased steadily, from 85 to 68 percent. This share was stable during much of the late 1990s and into the 2000s, but by 2012 it had decreased to 64 percent. The rate was stable between 2012 and 2015, and was at 65 percent in 2015. (Figure 1)
In 1960, the proportion of children living in mother-only families was eight percent, but by 1996 that proportion had tripled, to 24 percent. Since then, it has fluctuated between 22 and 24 percent, and was at 23 percent in 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, the share of children living in father-only families has fluctuated between three and five percent, and was at four percent in 2015. The proportion living without either parent (with either relatives or with non-relatives) has remained steady, at approximately four percent. (Figure 1)
In 2015, seven percent of all children lived in the home of their grandparents. In two-thirds of these families, one or both parents were also present. The proportion living with grandparents increased until the mid-1990s, from three to six percent of children. After remaining at around five percent until 2006, the proportion increased until 2010, but has since remained steady, at between six and seven percent. (Appendix 2)
Black children are significantly less likely than other children to be living with two married parents. In 2015, 34 percent of black children were living with two parents, compared with 83 percent of Asian children, 74 percent of white children, and 60 percent of Hispanic children. (Figure 2)
Most children who live with just one parent, regardless of race or Hispanic origin, live with their mothers. This is the case for nearly half of all black children, and more than one-quarter of all Hispanic children; among white and Asian children, smaller proportions (about one in seven, and one in ten, respectively) live with their mothers only. (Figure 2)
In 2015, eight percent of all black children did not live with either parent, compared with four percent of Hispanic children, three percent of white children, and two percent of Asian children. (Figure 2)
In 2015, there were 3.3 million cohabiting couples (unmarried) with children under 18. This number has been steadily increasing: in 1996, it was 1.2 million. However, the number of all unmarried couples (with or without children) has increased even more during the same time period. (Figure 3)
Compared with married couples with children, cohabiting couples with children tend to be younger, less educated, lower–income, and have less secure employment. In cohabiting couples with children, just over four in ten parents are between 25 and 34 years old, compared with less than three in ten parents in married couples. Less than a third of parents in cohabiting couples are between 35 and 44 years old, compared with four in ten parents in married couples. (Appendix 3)
Among women in cohabiting couples, 16 percent have no high school diploma, and another 35 percent have no college-level education. Among mothers in married couples, nine percent have no high school diploma, and 21 percent have no college-level education. (Appendix 3)
In cohabiting couples with children, 63 percent of women, and 81 percent of men, were employed, compared with 66 and 91 percent of mothers and fathers, respectively, in married couples. In eight percent of unmarried couples with children, neither person was employed in 2015, compared with only four percent among married couples with children. (Appendix 3) Children born to cohabiting parents are less likely than children born to married parents to remain in a stable family: two-thirds of children in the former group experience family instability before age 12, compared with about one-fourth of children in the latter group.
State and local estimates of children’s living arrangements are available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center.
Data for selected countries
(1980-2008) are available in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Statistical Abstract. (See tables 1301 and 1302)
Additional data are available from the 2014 World Family Map.
For this indicator, unless otherwise specified, a two-parent family refers to parents who are married to each other and living in the same household. They may be biological, adoptive, or stepparents. The Current Population Survey identifies all parents who are family or subfamily heads. Where cohabitants are concerned, until 2007, the CPS did not ask whether that person was also the parent of the child. Single-parent families refer primarily to families in which only one parent is present, but before 2007 may include some families where both parents were present but unmarried. No-parent families refer to families where neither parent of the child lives in the household. Data about children living with grandparents reflect those living in households headed by their grandparents, and do not include families where a grandparent is in the household as a dependent. Parents may or may not be present in such cases.
2015 data on cohabiting and married couples: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements”. Table UC3, FG1, and FG3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/.html
All other data for 2008-2015: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements”. Tables C-2, C-3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/.html
Data for non-Hispanic white and Asian children, 2000-2007: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements”. Tables C-2, C-3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2000.html
Other Data for 1960-2007: Child Trends calculations using: Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present. Tables CH-1, CH-2, CH-3, CH-4, and Ch-7. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Online. Available: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/children.html
March Current Population Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.
U.S. Decennial Census.
|Living with Two Married Parents3||87.7||85.0||80.3||76.6||73.9||72.5||68.7||69.1||67.3||67.4||67.8||66.7||66.8||65.7||65.0||64.1||64.4||64.4||64.7|
|White, non- Hispanic||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||77.5||75.9||75.9||76.2||75.4||75.8||75.0||74.6||73.7||74.4||74.5||74.5|
|Asian and Other Pacific Islander||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||80.5||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Living with One Parent4||9.1||12.0||17.0||19.7||23.4||24.7||27.0||26.7||28.2||28.0||25.8||26.3||26.2||26.6||27.2||28.3||27.8||27.5||26.8|
|White, non- Hispanic||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||19.9||21.2||20.8||21.3||22.0||21.4||21.8||22.4||20.7||19.6||19.8||19.6|
|Asian and Other Pacific Islander||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||16.5||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Living with Mother Only4||8.0||10.9||15.5||18.0||20.9||21.6||23.5||22.4||23.4||23.3||22.6||22.8||22.8||23.1||23.6||24.4||23.7||23.6||23.1|
|White, non- Hispanic||–||–||–||–||–||–||15.6||16.4||16.0||15.3||15.5||15.3||15.5||15.9||16.4||15.3||15.5||15.5|
|Asian and Other Pacific Islander||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||14.0||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Living with Father Only4||1.1||1.1||1.5||1.7||2.5||3.1||3.5||4.2||4.8||4.7||3.2||3.5||3.4||3.4||3.5||4.0||4.1||3.9||3.7|
|White, non- Hispanic||–||–||–||–||–||–||4.3||4.8||4.8||3.6||4.1||3.8||3.8||3.0||4.3||4.4||4.3||4.1|
|Asian and Other Pacific Islander||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||2.5||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Living with No Parent||3.2||3.0||2.7||3.7||2.7||2.8||4.3||4.2||4.5||4.6||3.5||3.8||4.0||4.1||3.9||3.6||3.7||3.8||3.9|
|White, non- Hispanic||–||–||–||–||–||–||2.6||2.9||3.2||2.5||2.6||2.8||3.1||3.0||2.8||3.0||3.0||2.9|
|Asian and Other Pacific Islander||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||2.9||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|1From 2003 forward, data for race reflect only those who selected a single race.2 Revised based on population from the decennial census for that year.
3Whether biological, adoptive, or non-biological parents.
4Before 2007, the parent may be residing with an unmarried partner.
Note: Based on Current Population Survey (CPS) (unless otherwise indicated)
Sources: Data for 2008-2015: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements”. Tables C-2, C-3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/.html. Data for non-Hispanic white and Asian children, 2000-2007: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements”. Tables C-2, C-3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2000.html. Other Data for 1960-2007: Child Trends calculations using: Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present. Tables CH-1, CH-2, CH-3, CH-4, and Ch-7. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Online. Available: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/children.html.
|Number of children under 18 (in thousands)||69,276||63,369||64,137||70,254||72,012||72,006||72,321||73,001||73,205||73,494|
|Percent Living with Grandparents||3.2||3.6||4.9||5.6||5.3||5.3||5.1||5.2||5.5||5.6|
|With parent(s) present||1.8||2.1||3.5||3.6||3.4||3.5||3.3||3.2||3.5||3.5|
|Both parents present||0.5||0.5||0.7||0.6||0.7||0.7||0.7||0.7||0.7||0.7|
|Mother only present||1.2||1.5||2.4||2.7||2.4||2.4||2.3||2.2||2.4||2.5|
|Father only present||0.1||0.1||0.3||0.3||0.3||0.3||0.4||0.3||0.4||0.3|
|Without parent(s) present||1.4||1.6||1.5||2.1||1.9||1.9||1.8||1.9||2.1||2.2|
|Number of children under 18 (in thousands)||73,664||73,746||74,104||74,230||74,718||74,630||73,817||73,910||73,692||73,623|
|Percent Living with Grandparents||5.1||5.5||5.9||6.1||6.5||6.6||6.2||6.2||6.6||6.7|
|With parent(s) present||3.1||3.7||3.9||4.0||4.3||4.4||4.3||4.2||4.4||4.4|
|Both parents present||0.6||0.9||1.0||1.0||1.1||1.3||1.1||1.2||1.3||1.3|
|Mother only present||2.2||2.5||2.6||2.9||2.9||2.8||2.8||2.7||2.8||2.8|
|Father only present||0.3||0.3||0.3||0.1||0.3||0.3||0.3||0.4||0.3||0.4|
|Without parent(s) present||2.0||1.8||2.0||2.1||2.2||2.2||2.0||1.9||2.2||2.3|
|Source: Child Trends calculations using: Grandchildren Living in the Home of Their Grandparents: 1970 to Present. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Online. Available: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/children.html.|
|Currently Cohabiting or Married (numbers in thousands)||3,255||3,255||24,857||24,857|
|45 years or more||15.3||9.3||36.7||26.9|
|No high school diploma or GED||18.9||15.9||10.8||9.2|
|High school diploma or GED||43||34.7||24.8||20.6|
|Some college, no bachelor’s degree||28.1||37.1||24||26.1|
|Bachelor’s degree or higher||10||12.3||40.3||44|
|Under $5,000, without income, or loss||15.4||35.4||7.6||35.6|
|$5,000 to $14,999||11.5||14.8||4.4||9.7|
|$15,000 to $29,999||27.9||25.5||13.8||14.8|
|$30,000 to $74,999||37||21.2||42.8||30.1|
|$75,000 and over||8.2||3.1||31.4||9.8|
|White only, not Hispanic||51.4||54||63.5||62.9|
|Black only, not Hispanic||15.8||12.7||7.5||6.7|
|Labor Force Status|
|In Labor Force||89.2||68.2||93.7||67.6|
|Not in Labor Force||10.8||31.8||6.3||32.4|
|Employment Status of Household Adults||Cohabiting||Married|
|Both are employed||51.9||60.2|
|Man only is employed||29.5||30.5|
|Woman only is employed||11.0||5.5|
|Neither is employed||7.7||3.7|
|1Same-sex couples with children are excluded from the analysis because, due to differences in state laws, the distinctions between married and unmarried couples are less clear, and vary by state. Additionally, due to the relative rarity of same-sex couples with children, heterosexual married or cohabiting couples with a misidentified gender have an outsize influence on this population.2 Excludes children who have been married.
Sources: Cohabiting data: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements.” Table UC3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam.html. Married data: Child Trends calculations of U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements.” Tables FG1 and FG3. Available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam.html
Amato, P. R., (2005). The impact of family formation
change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next
generation. The Future of Children, 15(2), 75-96.
For a first nationally representative look at adopted
children and their families, see Vandivere, S., Malm, K., and Radel, L. Adoption
USA: A chartbook based on the National Survey of Adoptive Parents. Washington,
DC: Child Trends. Available at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/09/NSAP/chartbook/.
Manning, W. D. and Lamb, K. A. (2003). Adolescent
well-being in cohabiting, married, and single-parent families. Journal of
Marriage and the Family, 65(4), 876-893.
Blackwell, D. L. (2010). Family structure and
children’s health in the United States: Findings from the National Health
Interview Survey, 2001-2007. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital
Health Statistics, 10(246).
Moore, K. A., Jekielek, S. M., and Emig, C. (2002). Marriage
from a child’s perspective: How does family structure affect children, and what
can we do about it? (Research Brief). Washington, DC: Child Trends. Available
Manning, W. D. and Lamb, K. A. (2003). Op. cit.
Amato, P. R., (2001). The consequences of divorce for
adults and children. In Robert M. Milardo (ed.), Understanding Families into
the New Millennium: A Decade in Review. (Lawrence, KS: National Council on
Family Relations): 488-506.
Dunifon, R. & Kowaleski-Jones, L. (2007). The
influence of grandparents in single-mother families. Journal of Marriage and
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Brown, S. L. (2004). Family
structure and child well-being: The significance of parental cohabitation. Journal
of Marriage and the Family, 66(2): 351-67.
The Urban Institute. (2006). Parents and children
facing a world of risk: Next steps towards a working families agenda.
Available at: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/311288_parents_and_children.pdf
 Hispanics can be any race. Estimates for whites in this report do not include Hispanics.
Manning, W. (2015). Cohabitation and child wellbeing. The Future of Children, 25(2), 51-66.
Child Trends Databank. (2015). Family structure. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=family-structure
Last updated: December 2015