(February 2001) The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers has increased steadily since the early 1960s, leveling off in the last few years at just below a third of all births. Over the same period, more mothers with young children, including many single mothers, have joined the labor force.
Despite these two trends, there has not been a big increase in the percentage of workers who are single parents of young children. The percentage of women in the labor force who are single parents of children under age 18 has increased slowly, from 4 percent in 1970 to 8 percent in 2000. (Just under 3 percent were single parents of a child less than 6 years old.)
Several factors account for this slow growth. One is the overall decline in fertility, from 88 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1970 to 66 births per 1,000 women in 1999. Fewer women, whether married or not, have young children than in past decades. Also, because labor force participation has grown for women at all ages, the denominator (women in the labor force with minor children) has grown almost as rapidly as the numerator (unmarried women in the labor force with minor children). So the fraction has grown slowly, even while the absolute number of single mothers working has increased.
PRB analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (March Supplement), 1970 to 2000.