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Roughly 1.5 Million Single Dads in U.S. Represent 5% of Parent-Child Families

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

It’s not easy being a single parent. But in addition to the challenges of raising children alone, single fathers face a unique set of stigmas and challenges, many of which may feel isolating. Yet, according to a new report from LendingTree, there are over 1.5 million single dads in the U.S. — a number that’s anything but insignificant.

In recognition of Father’s Day, LendingTree researchers looked at where fathers are parenting by themselves. This study looks at the number of single fathers who live with their children and compares it to single-mother families, parents living with unmarried partners and parents who live with spouses.

Key findings

  • Single fathers head 4.6% of families where parents live with their children. This translates to more than 1.5 million single fathers. In contrast, more than 6.3 million single-mother families represent 19.1% of parent-child families.
  • Single fathers are most prevalent in Nevada. In the Silver State, single fathers represent 6.8% of parent-child families; the other states above 6% are Montana and Oklahoma. On the other hand, single fathers make up less than 4% of parent-child families in Utah, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York — the lowest in the U.S.
  • Montana rises to the top when we narrow that view to single-parent families headed by fathers. Here, the difference is it’s looking solely at single-dad families versus single-mom families. In Montana, 31.0% of single-parent families are headed by fathers, followed by Maine (27.6%) and North Dakota (27.0%). Comparatively, dads are least likely to lead single-parent families in Mississippi (12.6%), the District of Columbia (13.4%) and Alabama (14.6%).
  • The average income for single-father families is $67,405 — a third less than the average for all families where parents raise their children ($101,536). Even so, it’s significantly higher than the average income among single-mother families ($40,500).
  • Single fathers are most financially behind other parent-child families in the District of Columbia. Single fathers earn 53.6% less, on average, than all parent-child families within the district — $75,399 versus $162,354. The other states with the widest gaps are Vermont (47.2%) and Massachusetts (42.7%). The states with the narrowest gaps are Wyoming (21.7%), Nevada (22.6%) and Mississippi (22.9%).
How we define families

LendingTree researchers analyzed U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey microdata to calculate the number of families headed by single men, single women, married couples and unmarried couples who live with their own children younger than 18.

Single parents, in this case, are people who don’t live with a spouse or unmarried partner. Married and unmarried partners include same-sex couples. “Own children” include:

  • Biological children
  • Adopted children
  • Stepchildren

This study didn’t include households and institutions where children live without at least one parent.

Prevalence of single dads, by state

When it comes to families where parents live with their children, parents with partners (either married or unmarried) are most common, accounting for 76.3% of parent-child families. Although single parents lead only 23.7% of parent-child families, the bulk of this is single mothers (19.1%) — single fathers lead just 4.6% of all parent-child families.

Parents at a glance

Number of families% of parent-child families
Single-father families1,535,3014.6%
Single-mother families6,329,02919.1%
All single-parent families7,864,33023.7%
Unmarried partner parent families2,700,5968.2%
Married partner parent families22,554,21468.1%
All partnered parent families25,254,81076.3%
All parent-child parents33,119,140100.0%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) microdata.

But while single-father families aren’t all that common, LendingTree researchers found that Nevada has the largest rate of single-father families, at 6.8% of all parent-child families. Montana (6.3%) and Oklahoma (6.1%) have the next-highest shares of single fathers who live with their children.

In states where single-father families are least prevalent, the percentage of single dads living with children plummets below 4% of all parent-child families. In Utah and New Jersey, single-father families are nearly half as prevalent as in Nevada — accounting for just 3.6% of all parent-child families in each state. Massachusetts and New York are also at the bottom of the list, with single dads making up 3.7% and 3.9% of the parent-child families in each state, respectively.

States with the highest rate of single-father families

RankStateNumber of families where parents live with their childrenNumber of families where single fathers live with their children% of families with single fathers
U.S.33,119,1401,535,3014.6%
1Nevada299,72020,2436.8%
2Montana101,8376,4096.3%
3Oklahoma420,65925,5216.1%
4New Mexico196,64411,4835.8%
5Delaware89,6235,0725.7%
5South Dakota94,8985,3715.7%
5Wisconsin611,67234,8515.7%
8Maine126,5457,1135.6%
8North Dakota86,9304,9005.6%
10Arizona696,48337,9815.5%
10Kentucky465,16525,3815.5%
10Vermont57,6313,1475.5%
13Colorado586,89331,7735.4%
13Missouri636,86934,3405.4%
13Nebraska225,84212,1905.4%
16District of Columbia49,5592,6145.3%
16Indiana710,17437,7725.3%
16West Virginia168,9928,9785.3%
19Minnesota617,72132,1265.2%
19Ohio1,210,19362,6965.2%
19Tennessee687,47335,6375.2%
22Kansas322,59516,2315.0%
22Michigan1,001,90150,2865.0%
22Pennsylvania1,260,56262,7635.0%
25Oregon416,54820,2494.9%
26Florida1,838,07488,7644.8%
27Arkansas320,10214,9734.7%
27Idaho188,8238,8454.7%
29Iowa344,69816,0144.6%
29Louisiana459,42021,1544.6%
29Maryland619,19628,1994.6%
29Washington795,93536,8264.6%
33North Carolina1,075,98048,3184.5%
33Rhode Island104,0804,7324.5%
33South Carolina486,60321,6934.5%
33Wyoming61,1082,7774.5%
37California3,872,025170,2774.4%
37New Hampshire130,8095,7844.4%
39Alaska75,9273,2834.3%
39Virginia877,64437,3514.3%
41Hawaii118,0314,9514.2%
41Mississippi300,82712,6024.2%
41Texas3,167,747134,1414.2%
44Alabama474,20319,4964.1%
44Connecticut365,51315,1044.1%
44Georgia1,098,81845,1374.1%
44Illinois1,317,00254,1294.1%
48New York1,882,58073,1373.9%
49Massachusetts685,25025,4123.7%
50New Jersey948,74133,8093.6%
50Utah366,87513,2663.6%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) microdata

Where single-father families come closest to rate of single-mother families

While single-father families are nowhere near as prevalent as single-mother families in the U.S., some states come closer to closing the gap than others.

When looking solely at single parents and not all parent-child families, Montana has the largest share of single dads compared to single moms. Among the single-parent families in Montana, 31.0% are led by single-father families.

Notably, however, Montana has a smaller percentage of single-parent families than the U.S. average. Just 20.3% of all parent-child families in Montana are led by single parents — 41st overall and below the U.S. average of 23.7%.

Single dads also come closer to matching the rate of single moms in Maine (27.6%) and North Dakota (27.0%). Both states also have a lower rate of single-parent families than the U.S. average — Maine is 40th (20.4%) and North Dakota is 37th (20.9%).

Conversely, the states where the rate of single moms far outnumbers the rate of single dads the most are where single-parent families are most common.

Mississippi, which ranks second-highest for single-parent households, sees the widest margin between partnerless mothers and fathers. While 33.2% of parent-child families in the state are single-parent, single fathers lead just 12.6% of these. In the District of Columbia, where the gap between single moms and single dads is second-largest, single-parent families make up 39.5% of parent-child relationships — the highest of any state — but single dads lead just 13.4% of them.

States where the highest rate of single-parent families are run by fathers

RankStateTotal single-parent familiesSingle-father families% of single-parent families run by single fathers
U.S.7,864,3301,535,30119.5%
1Montana20,6886,40931.0%
2Maine25,7747,11327.6%
3North Dakota18,1454,90027.0%
4Idaho33,0268,84526.8%
5Colorado119,07731,77326.7%
6South Dakota20,3635,37126.4%
7Minnesota122,52832,12626.2%
8Utah52,97013,26625.0%
8Wisconsin139,64734,85125.0%
8Wyoming11,0962,77725.0%
11Nevada81,33320,24324.9%
12Nebraska49,17412,19024.8%
12Vermont12,6963,14724.8%
14Alaska13,3083,28324.7%
15Washington149,87636,82624.6%
16Hawaii20,8624,95123.7%
16New Hampshire24,3795,78423.7%
16Oklahoma107,53125,52123.7%
19Kansas69,81616,23123.2%
19Oregon87,28820,24923.2%
19West Virginia38,6818,97823.2%
22Arizona170,67537,98122.3%
22Iowa71,66616,01422.3%
24Missouri156,89334,34021.9%
25California783,865170,27721.7%
25Kentucky116,76525,38121.7%
27Indiana175,17537,77221.6%
28Pennsylvania300,74162,76320.9%
29New Mexico55,80311,48320.6%
30Michigan247,81950,28620.3%
31Delaware25,4285,07219.9%
32Ohio319,11962,69619.6%
33Tennessee184,05335,63719.4%
34Virginia193,27137,35119.3%
35Maryland151,30428,19918.6%
36Florida479,69488,76418.5%
37Texas762,258134,14117.6%
38Illinois309,71754,12917.5%
39Connecticut87,05415,10417.4%
40New Jersey195,86333,80917.3%
40North Carolina279,33748,31817.3%
42Arkansas87,09014,97317.2%
43Rhode Island27,7264,73217.1%
44Massachusetts156,85525,41216.2%
45New York469,68873,13715.6%
45South Carolina139,48721,69315.6%
47Georgia302,27545,13714.9%
48Louisiana142,90921,15414.8%
49Alabama133,95619,49614.6%
50District of Columbia19,5732,61413.4%
51Mississippi100,01312,60212.6%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) microdata.

States with the highest rate of single-parent families

RankStateNumber of families where parents live with their childrenSingle-father families% of totalSingle-mother families% of totalTotal single-parent families% that are single parent
U.S.33,119,1401,535,3014.6%6,329,02919.1%7,864,33023.7%
1District of Columbia49,5592,6145.3%16,95934.2%19,57339.5%
2Mississippi300,82712,6024.2%87,41129.1%100,01333.2%
3Louisiana459,42021,1544.6%121,75526.5%142,90931.1%
4South Carolina486,60321,6934.5%117,79424.2%139,48728.7%
5New Mexico196,64411,4835.8%44,32022.5%55,80328.4%
5Delaware89,6235,0725.7%20,35622.7%25,42828.4%
7Alabama474,20319,4964.1%114,46024.1%133,95628.2%
8Georgia1,098,81845,1374.1%257,13823.4%302,27527.5%
9Arkansas320,10214,9734.7%72,11722.5%87,09027.2%
10Nevada299,72020,2436.8%61,09020.4%81,33327.1%
11Tennessee687,47335,6375.2%148,41621.6%184,05326.8%
12Rhode Island104,0804,7324.5%22,99422.1%27,72626.6%
13Ohio1,210,19362,6965.2%256,42321.2%319,11926.4%
14Florida1,838,07488,7644.8%390,93021.3%479,69426.1%
15North Carolina1,075,98048,3184.5%231,01921.5%279,33726.0%
16Oklahoma420,65925,5216.1%82,01019.5%107,53125.6%
17Kentucky465,16525,3815.5%91,38419.6%116,76525.1%
18New York1,882,58073,1373.9%396,55121.1%469,68824.9%
19Michigan1,001,90150,2865.0%197,53319.7%247,81924.7%
19Indiana710,17437,7725.3%137,40319.3%175,17524.7%
21Missouri636,86934,3405.4%122,55319.2%156,89324.6%
22Arizona696,48337,9815.5%132,69419.1%170,67524.5%
23Maryland619,19628,1994.6%123,10519.9%151,30424.4%
24Texas3,167,747134,1414.2%628,11719.8%762,25824.1%
25Pennsylvania1,260,56262,7635.0%237,97818.9%300,74123.9%
26Connecticut365,51315,1044.1%71,95019.7%87,05423.8%
27Illinois1,317,00254,1294.1%255,58819.4%309,71723.5%
28Massachusetts685,25025,4123.7%131,44319.2%156,85522.9%
28West Virginia168,9928,9785.3%29,70317.6%38,68122.9%
30Wisconsin611,67234,8515.7%104,79617.1%139,64722.8%
31Vermont57,6313,1475.5%9,54916.6%12,69622.0%
31Virginia877,64437,3514.3%155,92017.8%193,27122.0%
33Nebraska225,84212,1905.4%36,98416.4%49,17421.8%
34Kansas322,59516,2315.0%53,58516.6%69,81621.6%
35South Dakota94,8985,3715.7%14,99215.8%20,36321.5%
36Oregon416,54820,2494.9%67,03916.1%87,28821.0%
37North Dakota86,9304,9005.6%13,24515.2%18,14520.9%
38Iowa344,69816,0144.6%55,65216.1%71,66620.8%
39New Jersey948,74133,8093.6%162,05417.1%195,86320.6%
40Maine126,5457,1135.6%18,66114.7%25,77420.4%
41Montana101,8376,4096.3%14,27914.0%20,68820.3%
41Colorado586,89331,7735.4%87,30414.9%119,07720.3%
43California3,872,025170,2774.4%613,58815.8%783,86520.2%
44Minnesota617,72132,1265.2%90,40214.6%122,52819.8%
45Washington795,93536,8264.6%113,05014.2%149,87618.8%
46New Hampshire130,8095,7844.4%18,59514.2%24,37918.6%
47Wyoming61,1082,7774.5%8,31913.6%11,09618.2%
48Hawaii118,0314,9514.2%15,91113.5%20,86217.7%
49Alaska75,9273,2834.3%10,02513.2%13,30817.5%
49Idaho188,8238,8454.7%24,18112.8%33,02617.5%
51Utah366,87513,2663.6%39,70410.8%52,97014.4%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) microdata.

Single-father salaries are a third lower than married families

The average income for families headed by single dads is $67,405, a third less than the average for all families where parents raise their children ($101,536).

Among the financial disadvantages that single-father families face, a recent LendingTree study found that child care costs are on the rise, too. U.S. workers now spend up to an average of 29% of their income on child care for kids younger than 5.

However, while dual-income households hold an obvious advantage, the average income for single dads is still higher than the average income for unmarried partners ($43,389).

This gap may be because single fathers are typically more educated than cohabiting parents — only 12% of cohabiting fathers have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26% of single fathers, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) data. A separate 2018 Pew Research Center analysis showed solo parents are more likely to be older than cohabiting partners, meaning work experience may also account for income differences.

Single dads also earn significantly more than single-mother families ($40,500). Single mothers are slightly less likely than single dads to have a bachelor’s degree (23%), according to the 2020 Census data. In addition, the gender pay gap may further contribute to this difference — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women in the U.S. earned 16.9% less than men on average in 2021.

Demographic factors may also exacerbate income gaps: On average, Black women earn 29.4% less weekly than white men, according to the BLS.

Parents at a glance

Average income
Single-father families$67,405
Single-mother families$40,500
All single-parent families$45,753
Unmarried partner parent families$43,389
Married partner parent families$127,949
All partnered parent families$118,906
All parent-child parents$101,536

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) microdata.

Which state has the widest income gap — and which has the smallest?

Single dads fare the worst in D.C., where they earn 53.6% less than families with two parents — an average of $75,399, compared with the partnered-parent family average of $162,354. Following D.C., the incomes of single fathers are most different from partnered-parent salaries in Vermont and Massachusetts. For comparison, the breakdown is:

  • Vermont: $51,155 versus $96,851 (47.2% gap)
  • Massachusetts: $79,426 versus $138,668 (42.7% gap)

On the other hand, single dads in Wyoming are the most likely to make salaries that more closely align with those of two-parent families. The average salary for single dads here is $71,142, while two-parent families earn $90,800 — a 21.7% difference. Nevada and Mississippi rank second and third for single dads, where they make:

  • Nevada: $66,088 versus $85,387 (22.6% gap)
  • Mississippi: $54,636 versus $70,821 (22.9% gap)

States where single-father families are most financially behind

RankStateAverage income of families raising their own childrenAverage income of single-father familiesDifference ($)Difference (%)
U.S.$101,536$67,405$34,13033.6%
1District of Columbia$162,354$75,399$86,95553.6%
2Vermont$96,851$51,155$45,69647.2%
3Massachusetts$138,668$79,426$59,24142.7%
4West Virginia$73,880$44,277$29,60440.1%
5Iowa$92,144$55,733$36,41139.5%
5Maine$89,868$54,334$35,53439.5%
7Illinois$109,035$66,902$42,13338.6%
8Minnesota$114,025$70,133$43,89238.5%
9Tennessee$84,138$52,637$31,50137.4%
10Nebraska$92,997$58,311$34,68637.3%
11Arkansas$77,056$48,550$28,50637.0%
12Missouri$88,961$56,592$32,36936.4%
12Pennsylvania$101,556$64,544$37,01236.4%
14Maryland$127,215$82,277$44,93735.3%
15Alaska$103,424$67,014$36,41135.2%
16New Jersey$136,230$88,607$47,62435.0%
16New York$117,575$76,365$41,21035.0%
16South Dakota$90,369$58,741$31,62835.0%
19Virginia$118,503$77,090$41,41334.9%
20Colorado$113,744$74,445$39,29934.6%
21Kansas$92,601$60,791$31,81134.4%
22Georgia$93,321$61,514$31,80834.1%
22New Hampshire$117,228$77,281$39,94734.1%
24Connecticut$136,087$89,852$46,23634.0%
25Kentucky$81,304$53,939$27,36533.7%
25Washington$115,951$76,851$39,10033.7%
27Ohio$89,958$59,940$30,01833.4%
28Wisconsin$96,582$64,517$32,06533.2%
29Michigan$91,200$61,004$30,19533.1%
30Oregon$99,799$67,130$32,66832.7%
31North Carolina$89,598$60,461$29,13732.5%
32Texas$94,568$63,905$30,66332.4%
33Alabama$80,677$55,002$25,67531.8%
34Oklahoma$78,438$53,677$24,76031.6%
35Indiana$85,542$58,836$26,70631.2%
36Montana$87,407$60,225$27,18231.1%
37North Dakota$99,837$68,961$30,87630.9%
38Idaho$85,221$59,213$26,00830.5%
39Arizona$88,230$61,647$26,58330.1%
40California$117,302$83,188$34,11429.1%
40New Mexico$70,378$49,933$20,44529.1%
42Delaware$99,170$71,059$28,11028.3%
43Louisiana$79,438$57,065$22,37328.2%
44Rhode Island$102,038$73,770$28,26827.7%
45Utah$100,336$74,564$25,77225.7%
46South Carolina$83,279$62,659$20,62024.8%
47Hawaii$106,982$81,403$25,57923.9%
48Florida$87,971$67,523$20,44823.2%
49Mississippi$70,821$54,636$16,18622.9%
50Nevada$85,387$66,088$19,29922.6%
51Wyoming$90,800$71,142$19,65821.7%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) microdata.

3 ways single fathers can find more financial freedom

According to LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz, the greatest financial risks single-father households face go beyond the income gap.

“It’s really about financial margin for error,” Schulz says. “Single fathers don’t have a second income to fall back on in case of job loss, medical emergency or other financial catastrophes. They may not have as much access to credit as partnered-parent families, especially if both parents have good credit. Single fathers don’t have the same flexibility with child care. In short, single fathers have more limited options, and when you’re trying to raise a kid, that is incredibly important.”

For single fathers looking to expand their financial freedom, Schulz offers the following advice:

  • A budget is crucial. Creating a budget can give you the ability to make choices and prioritize what matters, Schulz says. Whether that’s child care, college savings or keeping your kid clothed and fed, understanding your flexibility and limitations makes it easier for you to plan and pay off existing debts.
  • Be thoughtful about your future expenses. Schulz advises people to take the time to understand how much money is coming in and going out of their household each month and use that information to make some important decisions — like financing their child’s college education. “Don’t hesitate to trim some expenses to free up money to fund your priorities,” Schulz says. “Get creative with ways to bring in a little more income.”
  • The most important thing: Take action, no matter how small. “Life is the most stressful when things feel out of our control,” Schulz says. “Taking steps to improve your situation, even small ones, can be empowering and motivating, and that feeling can keep you moving forward even on the most challenging days.”

Methodology

LendingTree researchers analyzed microdata from the U.S. Census Bureau 2020 American Community Survey (five-year estimates) to calculate the number of families headed by single men, single women, married couples and unmarried couples who live with their own children younger than 18.

For this study, single parents are people living with their minor children who are neither married nor living with unmarried partners. Married and unmarried partners include same-sex couples.

“Own children” include biological, adopted and stepchildren who are younger than 18 and unmarried. This study doesn’t include households and institutions where children live without at least one parent.

 

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