Children in single-parent households
Percentage of children that live in a household headed by single parent.
The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2015-2019 for this measure.
Reason for Ranking
Adults and children in single-parent households are at risk for adverse health outcomes, including mental illness (e.g. substance abuse, depression, suicide) and unhealthy behaviors (e.g. smoking, excessive alcohol use, food insecurity).[1-4] Self-reported health has been shown to be worse among lone mothers than for mothers living as couples, even when controlling for socioeconomic characteristics. Mortality risk is also higher among lone parents. Children in single-parent households are at greater risk of severe morbidity and all-cause mortality than their peers in two-parent households.
Key Measure Methods
Children in Single-Parent Households is a Percentage
Children in Single-Parent Households is the percentage of children (less than 18 years of age) living in family households that are headed by a single parent.
Children in Single-Parent Households has Changed Over Time
Prior to the 2013 data releases of the American Community Survey, people who reported being in a same-sex marriage were recoded as unmarried partners so households where children live with same-sex parents were counted as single-parent households. Beginning with the 2013 ACS releases (as reported in the 2015 Rankings), same-sex spouses were no longer recoded.
Children in Single-Parent Households can be a problematic measure because households headed by single parents, like those headed by married or cohabiting couples, can be quite heterogeneous, with differing levels of family, community, and economic support. Therefore, the distribution of health risk in single-parent households can vary dramatically, particularly for children. As of 2013, same-sex married couples are included with all married couples.
The numerator is the number of children in family households where the household is headed by a single parent (male or female head of household with no spouse present).
The denominator is the number of children living in family households in a county. Foster children and children living in non-family households or group quarters are not included in either the numerator or denominator.
Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress
This measure can be used to track progress with some caveats. It is important to note that the estimate provided in the County Health Rankings is a 5-year average. However, for counties with a population greater than 20,000 individuals, single year estimates can be obtained from the resource listed in Digging Deeper. In addition, please refer to the Measure Methods section above for more information about how the methodology for calculating this measure has changed.
Years of Data Used
American Community Survey, 5-year estimates
The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey designed to provide communities with a fresh look at how they are changing. It is a critical element in the Census Bureau's reengineered decennial census program. The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years, and publishes both one-year and five-year estimates. The County Health Rankings use American Community Survey data to obtain measures of social and economic factors.
ACS data can be downloaded for smaller geographic regions (eg. cities) or by demographic subgroup (race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc.). Visit https://data.census.gov/ to use the data. We use table B09005 for the County Health Rankings measure of Children in Single-Parent Households.
 McLanahan S, Sawhill I. Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited: Introducing the Issue. The Future of Children, Vol 25, No 2 pp 3-9 (FALL 2015).
 Manning W. Cohabitation and Child Wellbeing. The Future of Children, Vol 25, No 2 (FALL 2015).
 Ribar DC. Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing. The Future of Children, Vol 25, No 2 (FALL 2015).
 Balistreri KS. Family Structure and Child Food Insecurity: Evidence from the Current Population Survey. Social Indicators Research (2018): 138; 3, 1171-1185.
 Berkman LF, Zheng Y, Glymour MM, Avendano M, Borsch-Supan A, Sabbath EL. Mothering alone: cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single-mothers. Epidemiology and Community Health (2015) Vol 69, Iss 9.
 Chiu M, Rahman F, Vigod S, Lau C, Cairney J, KurdvakP. Mortality in single fathers compared with single mothers and partnered parents: a population-based cohort study. Lance Public Health Mar 2018, 3(3).
 Anderson J. The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects of divorce. LinacreQ. November 2014; 81(4):378-387.
See how this component fits into our model
When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.