Children in Single-Parent Households

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Percentage of children that live in a household headed by a single parent. The 2024 Annual Data Release used data from 2018-2022 for this measure.

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.5 Mortality risk is also higher among lone parents.6 

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Data and methods

Data Source

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. We use American Community Survey data for measures of social and economic factors.

Website to download data
For more detailed methodological information

Key Measure Methods

Children In Single-Parent Households is a percentage

Children in Single-Parent Households is the percentage of children (under 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 (ACS), people who reported being in a same-sex marriage were recoded and counted as unmarried partners, so households where children were living with same-sex parents were reported as single-parent households. Beginning with the 2013 ACS data releases (included in the 2015 Health Snapshots), same-sex spouses have been counted as married couples. Also, beginning with the 2019 ACS releases (included in the 2021 Health Snapshots), cohabiting households were reported separate from single-parent households. Cohabiting unmarried households are no longer included in the numerator.

Caution should be used when comparing these estimates across years

Caution should be used when comparing data across years as data comes from overlapping 5-year spans. Additionally, margins of error for 5-year estimates containing data collected in 2020 increased compared to prior 5-year estimates. For more information about ACS comparability please visit Comparing 2022 American Community Survey Data.

Measure limitations

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.2 


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 Health Snapshots 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 Finding More Data. In addition, please refer to the measure methods section above for more information about how the methodology for calculating this measure has changed.

Finding More Data

Disaggregation means breaking data down into smaller, meaningful subgroups. Disaggregated data are often broken down by characteristics of people or where they live. Disaggregated data can reveal inequalities that are otherwise hidden. These data can be disaggregated by:

  • Subcounty Area

ACS data can be downloaded for smaller geographic regions (eg. cities) or by demographic subgroup (race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc.). Children in Single-Parent Households can be calculated using table B09005. 


1 McLanahan S, Sawhill I. Marriage and child wellbeing revisited: Introducing the issue. The Future of Children. 2015;25(2):3-9.

2 Manning W. Cohabitation and child wellbeing. The Future of Children. 2015;25(2):51-66.

3 Ribar DC. Why marriage matters for child wellbeing. The Future of Children. 2015;25(2):11-27.

4 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, et al. Mothering alone: Cross-national comparisons of later-life disability and health among women who were single mothers. Epidemiology and Community Health. 2015;69(9):865-872.

6 Chiu M, Rahman F, Vigod S, et al. Mortality in single fathers compared with single mothers and partnered parents: a population-based cohort study. Lancet Public Health. 2018;3(3):e115-e123.

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