It's Not Just 'Big Daddy' Anymore, Single Dads Are On the Rise in America


Thought single dads only existed on Full House and in Adam Sandler films from the '90s? Although they are rarely portrayed in the media, a new study shows that they are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States.

A longitudinal study conducted by Pew Research Center's analysis of the decennial Census and American Community Survey has found that the amount of single fathers has dramatically increased since 1960.  Although only 1% of households in the United States were headed by a single father in 1960, that number has now jumped to 8%. The study showed that there were 8.6 million single-father-headed households in 2011, compared to only 1.9 million in 1960.  

In this particular study, any father aged 15 or older, the head of household, and who reports living in the same residence as their own minor children (biological children, step-children, or adopted children) were counted in the sample. More than half are "separated, divorced, widowed, or never married and are living without a cohabiting partner" and 41% are living with a non-marital partner. Only 7% reported being married but living in separate households.

Although they are on the rise, single fathers are much less socio-economically advantaged than co-habitating fathers.  According to the survey, they are "younger, less educated, less financially well-off, and less likely to be white."  About one in five single fathers does not have a high-school diploma and they make almost half of what married fathers make. 

Despite this disadvantage, single fathers are still much more well-off than single mothers. The median income for a single father is $40,000 while it's only $26,000 for a single mother. It's no surprise that single mothers are far more likely to find themselves below the poverty line than single dads (43% versus 24%). Although single fathers are usually less educated than single moms, they are far more likely to be older and white. About 56% of single dads are white, compared to 45% of single moms. Roughly 15% of single dads are African American and 24% are Hispanic.

What explains these pivotal shifts in single fatherhood? The divorce rate over the past few decades is part of it. The fact that a growing number of couples are having children out of wedlock is also a contributing factor. Moreover, there have also been significant "changes in the legal system that have led to more opportunities for fathers to gain at least partial custody of children in the event of a breakup, as well." Gender ideals for men have also changed and value men not only as breadwinners but also as caregivers. Another Pew survey supports this cultural change. It showed that most people believe that giving income support to his family comes after providing values to his children as well as emotional support.

Although there's still a long way to go in terms of the portrayal of single fathers in the media, some advertisers are finally recognizing them as an important population group.  I saw this ad at the gym earlier this week on CNN and I thought it was pretty groundbreaking that a laundry product would be advertising to fathers, let alone men.  

What do you think of the rise of the single dad?  Let me know on Twitter: @feministabulous