Statistics On Fatherless Homes in the US: How Common Are They? [2022]

In this article, we share the most recent data and statistics on fatherless homes in the US, present vs. absent fathers, and their impacts on the children involved.

As the nuclear family continues to dissolve in the U.S., the number of children who grow up without a father continues to increase. Fatherless families exist in a multitude of varieties, across all demographics, and with several unique causes.

As we dive into the data, we’ll analyze the actual number of fatherless families, how they compare to two-parent families, the demographics they affect most, and the impacts they have on children. 

Let’s start with these statistical highlights from our research:

  • About 1 in 4 American children live without a father in their home. 
  • 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes. 
  • Almost three-quarters of American children living in fatherless families will experience poverty before age 11, compared to just 20% of children raised by two parents.
  • A 1987 study found that 60% of rapists were raised in fatherless homes. 
  • 73% of fatherless children say their school grades are worse than others in their class. 
  • Having a “social father” – one not related to the child biologically – in their home increases a child’s risk of abuse and neglect. 
  • Since 2016, the percentage of African-American children living with a single mother has decreased by over 6%.

How Common Are Fatherless Homes?

Absent fathers take all forms; some have passed away, while around 2 out of 5 say they interact with their children at least once a month. 

Regardless, they still leave almost 20 million children without a full-time father. These statistics show how many people are affected:

  • About 1 in 4 children (18.4 million) live without a father in their home. (National Fatherhood Initiative, 2021)1
  • Children living without a father is the second most common living arrangement in the U.S., which has doubled since 1968. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a)2
  • In 1968, 11% of American children (7.6 million) lived with their mothers only. By 2020 this number had increased to 21% (15.3 million). (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a)2
  • In 2020, 5% of absent fathers had their children live with them at some point during the previous year. 42% of absent fathers said they had at least monthly contact with children living elsewhere. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019a)3
  • One study found that of the 8,334 participant children living in single-parent families, 82.5% lived with their mother only. (Substance Use & Misuse, 2009)4
  • Of all families with children under 18 where at least one parent works full time, 45.4% are single-mother families. (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1997)5
  • 14,449,000 American children (19.7%) were living in fatherless homes in 2018. (Institute for Family Studies, 2020)6

Present vs. Absent Fathers

The benefits of having a father versus not having a father are pretty clear. Families run by single mothers are much more likely to experience poverty, and their children are more likely to struggle academically. 

The following data shows how present fathers rate against absent fathers:

  • 30% of both single-fathers and absent fathers are never-married individuals. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019a)3
  • Only 10% of all fathers are divorced, but 51% of single fathers and 30% of absent fathers are divorced. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019a)3
  • The average rate of college education and employment for single fathers and absent fathers is significantly lower than the overall rate for all fathers with children under 18. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019a)3
  • Nearly 75% of children living in fatherless households in the U.S. will experience poverty before age 11, compared to just 20% of children raised by two parents. (National Fatherhood Initiative, 1997)7
  • Children raised by a single father are significantly more likely to use marijuana than children raised by a single mother. (Substance Use & Misuse, 2009)4
  • Academic performance varies between children with present fathers and children with absent fathers. Here are the numbers from one study of African-American adolescent males: (University of Wisconsin-Platteville, 2009)8
    • Children with present fathers:
      • 24% had to repeat a grade in school. 
      • 30.4% reported that their grades were better than other students in their class. 
      • 3.6% reported that their grades were worse than other students in their class. 
    • Children with absent fathers:
      • 49% had to repeat a grade in school.
      • 22% reported that their grades were better than other students in their class.
      • 73% reported that their grades were worse than other students in their class.

Risks and Consequences of Growing up Without a Father

Fair warning – this section is going to be sad. When a family is forced to, for whatever reason, function without a full-time father, its children are subjected to a gauntlet of hardships at much higher rates than other kids. 

These data points paint a picture of the adversities faced by fatherless children:

  • A child’s living arrangements/family structure can impact academic performance, cause internalized problems such as anxiety and depression, and cause externalized problems such as anger and aggression. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a)2
  • Absent fathers may be a significant underlying cause of drug use, crime, and poverty for male African-American adolescents. (University of Missouri, St. Louis, 2021)9

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

  • Children without fathers are 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • 71% of all adolescent substance abusers came from a fatherless home. (National Center for Fathering, 2015)11

Incarceration

  • Men without fathers made up 70% of the prison population serving long-term sentences in 1996. (National Fatherhood Initiative, 1997)7
  • 80% of all prison inmates come from fatherless homes. (Fix Family Courts, 2017)12
  • Children from fatherless homes are 11 times more likely to exhibit violent behavior. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • In 1987, one study found that 60% of rapists were raised in fatherless homes. (Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 1987)13
  • Children raised without a father are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • Children from fatherless homes are 14 times more likely to commit rape. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • Having an absent father promotes delinquency to a much higher degree than peer delinquency or socioeconomic status. (University of Wisconsin-Platteville, 2009)8
  • Homes with absent fathers have less supervision and are less likely to generate pro-social attitudes in African-American adolescent males. (University of Wisconsin-Platteville, 2009)8

Child Abuse

  • Having a “social father” (one who is not biologically related to the child) can increase the risk of abuse or neglect. (The Future of Children, 2010)14
  • Children from fatherless homes are 9 times more likely to be sexually abused or raped (National Health Interview Survey, 1995)15

Poverty

  • Families with an absent father are 44% more likely to raise children in poverty. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)16
  • Fatherless families are 4 times more likely to be raised in poverty. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012)17
  • Fatherless children make up 90% of all homeless and runaway children. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • Kids with absent fathers are 32 times more likely to run away from home. (The Village Voice, 2002)10

Physical and Emotional Health

  • Of all youth suicides, 63% come from single-mother homes. (Fix Family Courts, 2017)12
  • 80% of adolescents in psychiatric hospitals in 1988 had an absent father. (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1988)18
  • Kids with absent fathers are 5 times more likely to commit suicide. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • One study found that an absent father can cause male adolescents to experience resentment, anger, financial issues, and stress. (University of Missouri, St. Louis, 2021)9
  • Fatherless sons who lack discipline are often disrespectful to authority and rebellious. (University of Missouri, St. Louis, 2021)9
  • Fatherless sons who felt anger or resentment toward their absent father often lashed out and engaged in fights or other aggressive behaviors. (University of Missouri, St. Louis, 2021)9

Education

  • Children without fathers are more likely to score below average in math and reading. (National Center for Fathering, 2015)11
  • Children without fathers are 9 times more likely to drop out of school. (The Village Voice, 2002)10
  • Fatherless children are less likely to earn professional or academic qualifications as adults. (Psychology Today, 2012)19

Of all teen pregnancies, 70% happen in fatherless homes. (National Center for Fathering, 2015)11


Fatherless Children by Ethnicity and Age

African-Americans have the highest rate of fatherless families (though this may be more indicative of lower marriage rates and institutional hardships than absentee fathers) but have seen over a 6% decrease since 2016. 

For White and Hispanic families, the rate of absentee fathers has hardly changed in the past five years. Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • The numbers and percentages of children under 18 living without a father from 2016 to 2021, broken down by ethnic group, are as follows: (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021b)20
    • 2016
      • 18.68% of White/Caucasian children (10,664,000) lived with a single mother only. 
      • 25.26% of Hispanic children (4,605,000) lived with a single mother only.
      • 49.49% of Black/African-American children (6,508,000) lived with a single mother only. 
    • 2017
      • 18.56% of White/Caucasian children (10,604,000) lived with a single mother only. 
      • 24.66% of Hispanic children (4,541,000) lived with a single mother only.
      • 47.08% of Black/African-American children (6,508,000) lived with a single mother only. 
    • 2018:
      • 18.02% of White/Caucasian children (10,291,000) live with a single mother only. 
      • 24.89% of Hispanic children (4,646,000) live with a single mother only.
      • 45.94% of Black/African-American children (6,108,000) live with a single mother only. 
    • 2019:
      • 17.52% of White/Caucasian children (9,912,000) live with a single mother only. 
      • 24.26% of Hispanic children (4,550,000) live with a single mother only.
      • 44.19% of Black/African-American children (5,860,000) live with a single mother only. 
    • 2020:
      • 16.98% of White/Caucasian children (9,593,000) live with a single mother only. 
      • 23.98% of Hispanic children (4,474,000) live with a single mother only.
      • 44.94% of Black/African-American children (5,892,000) live with a single mother only. 
    • 2021:
      • 17.69% of White/Caucasian children (9,835,000) live with a single mother only. 
      • 24.75% of Hispanic children (4,571,000) live with a single mother only.
      • 43.08% of Black/African-American children (5,808,000) live with a single mother only. 
  • The numbers of children under 18 who were living in fatherless homes in 2020, by age group, are as follows: (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a)2
    • Ages 0 to 5 – 28.4% of children living in fatherless homes were in this age group. 
    • Ages 6 to 11 – 34.6% of children.
    • Ages 12 to 17 – 37.0% of children.

Which States Have the Highest Rates of Fatherless Homes?

Aside from New Mexico, the top 11 highest rates of fatherless families are all southern states and D.C. 

Hawaii, on the other hand, has the lowest rate of single mothers in the U.S.:

Here’s a ranked list of state percentages of single-mother households, from highest to lowest: (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019b)21

  • 1. Mississippi
    • 87,500 single-mother households (7.9% of all households)
  • 2. Louisiana
    • 126,922 single-mother households (7.3% of all households)
  • 3. Georgia
    • 260,853 single-mother households (6.9% of all households)
  • 4. Texas
    • 631,462 single-mother households (6.5% of all households)
  • 5. Alabama
    • 119,948 single-mother households (6.4% of all households)
  • 6. District of Columbia
    • 17,972 single-mother households (6.3% of all households)
  • 7. South Carolina
    • 119,301 single-mother households (6.2% of all households)
  • 8. Arkansas
    • 71,290 single-mother households (6.2% of all households)
  • 9. New Mexico
    • 46,481 single-mother households (6% of all households)
  • 10. North Carolina
    • 232,277 single-mother households (5.9% of all households)
  • 11. Tennessee
    • 149,294 single-mother households (5.7% of all households)
  • 12. Maryland
    • 126,029 single-mother households (5.7% of all households)
  • 13. Oklahoma
    • 84,741 single-mother households (5.7% of all households)
  • 14. Rhode Island
    • 23,342 single-mother households (5.7% of all households)
  • 15. Ohio
    • 263,760 single-mother households (5.6% of all households)
  • 16. New York
    • 403,905 single-mother households (5.5% of all households)
  • 17. Connecticut
    • 74,844 single-mother households (5.5% of all households)
  • 18. Illinois
    • 260,021 single-mother households (5.4% of all households)
  • 19. Indiana
    • 139,712 single-mother households (5.4% of all households)
  • 20. Nevada
    • 58,830 single-mother households (5.4% of all households)
  • 21. Kentucky
    • 92,571 single-mother households (5.3% of all households)
  • 22. Florida
    • 400,109 single-mother households (5.2% of all households)
  • 23. Michigan
    • 162,385 single-mother households (5.2% of all households)
  • 24. Virginia
    • 162,385 single-mother households (5.2% of all households)
  • 25. Massachusetts
    • 134,808 single-mother households (5.2% of all households)
  • 26. Missouri
    • 124,469 single-mother households (5.2% of all households)
  • 27. Delaware
    • 18,938 single-mother households (5.2% of all households)
  • 28. New Jersey
    • 165,997 single-mother households (5.1% of all households)
  • 29. Arizona
    • 129,340 single-mother households (5% of all households)
  • 30. Pennsylvania
    • 248,323 single-mother households (4.9% of all households)
  • 31. California
    • 631,664 single-mother households (4.8% of all households)
  • 32. Kansas
    • 53,063 single-mother households (4.7% of all households)
  • 33. Nebraska
    • 35,703 single-mother households (4.7% of all households)
  • 34. Wisconsin
    • 107,832 single-mother households (4.6% of all households)
  • 35. South Dakota
    • 15,962 single-mother households (4.6% of all households)
  • 36. Alaska
    • 11,572 single-mother households (4.6% of all households)
  • 37. Iowa
    • 57,047 single-mother households (4.5% of all households)
  • 38. Minnesota
    • 92,701 single-mother households (4.2% of all households)
  • 39. Colorado
    • 90,064 single-mother households (4.2% of all households)
  • 40. West Virginia
    • 30,537 single-mother households (4.2% of all households)
  • 41. Oregon
    • 65,575 single-mother households (4.1% of all households)
  • 42. Utah
    • 40,248 single-mother households (4.1% of all households)
  • 43. Idaho
    • 25,589 single-mother households (4.1% of all households)
  • 44. Washington
    • 115,308 single-mother households (4% of all households)
  • 45. North Dakota
    • 12,039 single-mother households (3.8% of all households)
  • 46. Wyoming
    • 8,802 single-mother households (3.8% of all households)
  • 47. Maine
    • 20,811 single-mother households (3.7% of all households)
  • 48. Vermont
    • 9,714 single-mother households (3.7% of all households)
  • 49. New Hampshire
    • 19,136 single-mother households (3.6% of all households)
  • 50. Montana
    • 15,179 single-mother households (3.5% of all households)
  • 51. Hawaii
    • 15,567 single-mother households (3.4% of all households)

What Causes Fatherless Families?

While many dads do walk out on their children, that isn’t the only cause of fatherless families. It is, however, one of the foremost causes – alongside divorce. 

A large number of single mothers are widows or women who choose to adopt without a partner. These data points shed some light on the causes of fatherless families:

  • Since the 1960s, out-of-wedlock births and divorce have been the major causes of fatherless families in the U.S. (Fathers, unspecified)22
  • In 1960, there were 393,000 divorces. In 2008, there were 8,844,000 divorces in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012)23
  • The following are the percentages of births that took place out of wedlock per year from 1980 to 2020: (Statista, 2022)24
    • 1980 – 18.4% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 1985 – 22% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 1990 – 28% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 1995 – 32.2% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2000 – 33.2% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2001 – 33.5% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2002 – 34% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2003 – 34.6% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2004 – 35.8% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2005 – 36.9% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2006 – 38.5% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2007 – 39.7% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2008 – 40.6% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2009 – 41.0% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2010 – 40.8% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2011 – 40.7% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2012 – 40.7% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2013 – 40.6% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2014 – 40.2% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2015 – 40.3% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2016 – 39.8% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2017 – 39.8% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2018 – 39.6% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2019 – 40% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
    • 2020 – 40.5% of women who gave birth were unmarried.
  • Systemic racism toward African-Americans reduces the stability of the African-American community, leading to the deaths or incarcerations of many fathers. (University of Missouri, St. Louis, 2021)9
  • Nearly 70% of births to Black mothers are outside of wedlock. However, many black fathers (though less likely to marry their child’s mother) still parent through cohabitation, visitation, caretaking, financial support, and in-kind support. (National Responsible Fatherhood Clearing House, 2009)25
  • 14,135 adopters (roughly 25%) in 2020 were single females who adopted from the U.S. foster care system. (Children’s Bureau, 2021)26
  • 258,015 single females have adopted children from U.S. foster care from 2003 to 2020. (Children’s Bureau, 2020)27
  • The following are numbers and percentages of adopters who were single females from 2003 to 2020: (Children’s Bureau, 2020)27
    • 2003 – 28% (14,206) of adopters were single females
    • 2004 – 27% (14,420) of adopters were single females
    • 2005 – 27% (13,822) of adopters were single females
    • 2006 – 26% (13,370) of adopters were single females
    • 2007 – 27% (14,017) of adopters were single females
    • 2008 – 28% (15,165) of adopters were single females
    • 2009 – 28% (15,408) of adopters were single females
    • 2010 – 28% (14,465) of adopters were single females
    • 2011 – 27% (13,331) of adopters were single females
    • 2012 – 27% (13,875) of adopters were single females
    • 2013 – 27% (13,579) of adopters were single females
    • 2014 – 26% (13,170) of adopters were single females
    • 2015 – 26% (13,671) of adopters were single females
    • 2016 – 25% (14,049) of adopters were single females
    • 2017 – 25% (14,811) of adopters were single females
    • 2018 – 25% (15,704) of adopters were single females
    • 2019 – 26% (16,817) of adopters were single females
    • 2020 – 25% (14,135) of adopters were single females

Conclusion

The percentage of American children living without a father has nearly doubled since 1968. Studies have continually shown that growing up without a father greatly increases the risk of poverty, low academic performance, suicide, aggression, emotional problems, and other harmful characteristics in children. 

These negative effects are often independent of socioeconomic factors, which means that growing up poor and/or disenfranchised with a father is still better for a child than growing up the same way without one. 

Many single-mother families come from adoption or spousal death, and many more have an unmarried father still in their child’s life. 

Many others, however, are needlessly growing up in poverty and pain. These children are a huge percentage of the next generation of Americans, and they need their fathers.  

Footnotes

  1. National Fatherhood Initiative, 2021. A statistical report on the numbers and effects of absent fathers in the U.S. utilizing census data from 1,406,935 American households.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a. A report on the living arrangements of children in the U.S., and the increase in single-parent families, that uses census data from 1,406,935 American households.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau, 2019a. A report comparing solo fathers and absentee fathers in the U.S. that uses census data from 2,322,722 households.
  4. Substance Use & Misuse, 2009. A study conducted on 37,507 Americans in 2009 to determine the link between family structure and adolescent drug use.
  5. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1997. A study of the national indicators of well-being in American children using data from several sources across several federal agencies.
  6. Institute for Family Studies, 2020. An article on the composition of America’s families utilizing data from a survey of 2,059,945 American households.
  7. National Fatherhood Initiative, 1997. An article on the critical role that parents play in child development utilizing data from a 1997 study by the National Fatherhood Initiative.
  8. University of Wisconsin-Platteville, 2009. A research article on the effects of growing up without a father on African-American children using data from a study of 433 adolescents.
  9. University of Missouri, St. Louis, 2021. A study on the effects of an absent father on 8 African-American fatherless sons.
  10. The Village Voice, 2002. An article on the impact of a father on children that utilizes a variety of data from the CDC, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Justice, and other sources.
  11. National Center for Fathering, 2015. An infographic report on the negative effects of absent fathers on children that cites data from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as several other publications.
  12. Fix Family Courts, 2017. An article on the effects that single-parent upbringings have on children and, subsequently, on society as a whole, that utilizes data from various publications.
  13. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 1987. A research article on the trends and similarities associated with murderers in the U.S. using data from a study of 72 American adolescents.
  14. The Future of Children, 2010. A research article utilizing data from 14 different studies on families with fragile structures and how they impact the well-being of children.
  15. National Health Interview Survey, 1995. A report on the household compositions and factors related to a child’s well-being using data gathered in a 1988 survey of 127,000 Americans.
  16. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011. A report on poverty, education, family composition, and other factors using data from 2,128,104 households collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  17. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012. A report on poverty and income statistics in the American population in 2012 using data from 2,375,715 American households.
  18. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1988. A study of 111 American children on how parenting and home environment affect parents and children.
  19. Psychology Today, 2012. An article on the effects of absent fathers on child development that uses data from two surveys of 1,500 students per surveyed country aged 11, 13, or 15.
  20. U.S. Census Bureau, 2021b. A grouping of reports on over 1,406,935 American households and their demographic factors and living arrangements across several years.
  21. U.S. Census Bureau, 2019b. A report of 5-year estimate data on the family compositions of 2,059,945 American households by state.
  22. Fathers, unspecified. An article on the causes of fatherlessness that utilizes data from the US National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, and other sources.
  23. U.S. Census Bureau, 2012. A report on marital statuses, births, and deaths using census data of 2,375,715 American households.
  24. Statista, 2022. A report on the percentages of births that took place out of wedlock in the U.S. from 1980 to 2020 using data of 3.75 million American births.
  25. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, 2009. An academic book authored by Professor Roberta Coles, associate professor of sociology at the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University, and Professor Charles Green, sociology professor at Hunter College.
  26. Children’s Bureau, 2021. An analysis report on the adoption and foster care system in the U.S. for FY2020.
  27. Children’s Bureau, 2020. A compilation of reports and statistics on the U.S. adoption and foster care system from 2003 to 2020.
Dainis Graveris

Dainis Graveris

Over last 4 years Dainis have helped millions of people through his advice on this site (200+ guides and 1M+ visits/monthly). His work & advice has appeared on sites like: Healthline, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, WomensHealthMag, MindBodyGreen & more. Read More

Got Questions? Ping me on Twitter.