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How Children Live Now Compared to a Half-Century Ago

In 1960, more than a half-century ago, only 8 percent of all children lived only with their mother. By 2016, that number had surged to 23 percent. That’s one of the most striking differences in how children are living, according to a new report from the Census Bureau.

Here are some of the highlights of a half-century of changes in how children are living:

% of children living with two parents

88 percent in 1960

69 percent in 2016

There has been a big decrease in the percentage of children living with two parents, but that’s still how the majority of children live. Note that these statistics are only about how children are living. A different kind of statistic compares different kinds of households, such as 1-person households, households of married couples without children, married couples with children, and many other varieties. Households of married couples with children make up just under 20% of all households.

The 69 percent of children living with two parents equates to 50.7 million children. However, not all of them are living with two married parents; 3 million are living with two unmarried parents.

% of children living just with their mother

 8 percent in 1960

23 percent in 2016

% of children living just with their father

1 percent in 1960

4 percent in 2016

% of children not living with either parent

3 percent in 1960

4 percent in 2016

Who else is in the household with the children? The Census Bureau reported on that, too, but only for 2016.

% that include children who are siblings

84 percent of two-parent households

75 percent of mother-only households

62 percent of father-only households

34 percent of households with none of the children’s parents

% that include at least one grandparent

 5 percent of two-parent households

16 percent of mother-only households

15 percent of father-only households

55 percent of households with none of the children’s parents

Notice that two-parent households are especially likely to include siblings, whereas one-parent households (and households that do not include any of the children’s parents) are more likely to include at least one grandparent.

There are many scare stories about the growing number of single parents. We are supposed to believe that their children are doomed. I’ve been critiquing those claims for many years, starting with Singled Out and continuing through Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You. I have found that claims about the inferior life outcomes of the children of single parents are often grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. There are ways in which the children of single parents do better than the children of married parents.

The presence of grandparents in households with single parents may be more significant than we realize. For example, a study of more than 11,000 eighth-graders from 10 different kinds of households found, as expected, that adolescents raised in married-parent households did well. But adolescents raised by a divorced parent in a multi-generational household did just as well. The adolescents who did the best – better even than those raised by two married parents – were those raised by a parent who had always been single in a multi-generational household.

Photo by MissouriStateArchives

How Children Live Now Compared to a Half-Century Ago

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2016). How Children Live Now Compared to a Half-Century Ago. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Nov 2016
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