The rate of children living in single-parent households is higher in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, according to the Pew Research Center. Roughly 23% of U.S. children live with one parent, compared to 7% globally. According to Utah data, in 2021 there were 70,647 single-parent families; of these, 69.2% were headed by single mothers.
“Because of the heavy burdens single mothers carry trying to balance work, life, and family, many are discouraged, overwhelmed, and exhausted,” said Susan Madsen, Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) founding director. “These challenges, especially if faced without appropriate support, can keep single mothers in a place of simply surviving rather than a place where they can grow, excel, and thrive.”
The UWLP recently released a report to help identify and understand the unique needs of single mothers nationally and in Utah so programs can be tailored to help them thrive. It details the challenges single mothers face, including economic disadvantages, mental health concerns, work instability, decreased time to devote to their children and their own well-being, education barriers, and possible poorer outcomes for their children.
The report showed the three counties in Utah with the highest percentage of single mothers were Grand (7.2%), Weber (6%), and San Juan (6.1%). The three counties with the lowest percentage were Piute (0%), Daggett (1%), and Beaver (1.8%).
According to Kristy Hodson, College of Health Professions instructor, Western Governors University, UWLP research fellow, and a report author, factors specific to Utah, as well as nationwide, add to the challenges many single mothers face. Three Utah factors include:
Wage Gap – Utah adult women who work full-time, year-round, earn approximately 72% of what their male counterparts earn, lower than the national percentage of 81%. Additionally, women tend to spend less time in the workforce than men, often because of caregiving responsibilities.
Cost of Childcare – Utahns have larger families than the U.S. average. According to the Economic Policy Institute, childcare in Utah is more expensive than college. Infant care for one child would take approximately 14% of a median family’s income, and costs increase with every child. These costs likely affect single mothers’ workforce participation and long-term earnings.
Cost of Living – Americans in the intermountain region experienced the highest inflation rates as of January 2022. Additionally, home prices have risen more quickly in Utah than in other states over the past few years. Cost-of-living increases are especially challenging for those living at or close to poverty levels, which includes many single mothers. The median income among Utah single mothers with children under 18 has stayed near the same for the last decade, from $33,100 in 2010 to $37,900 in 2020.
Hodson said the report includes recommendations to improve programs and develop new initiatives and policies in Utah that will help better support single mothers. These include:
Childcare – Promote reform that caps childcare expenses for single-mother families, and increase access to affordable childcare with extended operating hours, including after-school and summer programs.
Government and Community Support – Through legislation, strengthen enforcement tools that ensure that single mothers receive child support and alimony. Assist them in navigating the legal processes dealing with child support.
Education – Encourage girls and women to graduate from college and pursue careers in higher-paying industries. Provide affordable, on-campus childcare, student-family housing, and flexible class schedules for single mothers.
Employment – Promote programs focused on improving employment stability for single mothers, including workplace family-friendly policies and benefits.
Mental Health – Increase access to affordable mental healthcare. Invest in services and implement policies that empower single mothers to be resilient and self-sufficient.
Emily Darowski, UWLP associate director and a report author, said supporting single mothers helps ensure the successful future of our state and nation.
“Although many challenges come with being a single mother, resources are in place in Utah to help,” she said. “But the data still show a need for adjustments and additional programs, services, and policies. Providing intentional and targeted support can bring help and hope for single mothers and their families, which in turn will provide positive impacts in our communities.”