Are single mothers happy?

Being a single mother can be extremely challenging, but are single moms generally happy with their lives? Research provides mixed results on this question. While single moms face more financial and time constraints than partnered moms, studies show they also find joy and meaning in parenting alone. This article reviews the evidence on single mom happiness and well-being.

The Challenges of Single Motherhood

It’s undeniable that single mothers face exceptional challenges. In the United States, single mother households have significantly lower incomes than married couple households. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows:

Household Type Median Income
Married couple families $96,189
Single father households $63,902
Single mother households $44,787

With lower incomes, single moms struggle to afford childcare, housing, healthcare, and other necessities. Financial stress is one of the top challenges cited by single mothers.

Single moms also shoulder all parenting responsibilities alone. Without a partner to share caretaking duties, single mothers take on a “second shift” of housework and childcare after their paying jobs. A Pew Research study found single moms devote more hours to housework and childcare per week than partnered moms.

The combination of financial strain and caregiving burdens puts single mothers at higher risk for physical and mental health problems. Studies show single mothers have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other issues than partnered mothers and single women without children.

Signs of Resilience

While acknowledging the struggles single moms face, research also finds signs of resilience. Surveys show most single moms rate their lives positively:

  • In a 2015 poll by the Washington Post and Univision, 86% of single moms said they were satisfied with their lives.
  • A survey by Gallup in 2018 found 80% of single moms said they always or sometimes feel their lives have an important purpose.
  • In the same Gallup poll, 76% of single moms said they experience happiness and enjoyment a lot of the day.

How do single mothers maintain a positive outlook despite higher stress? Studies suggest several contributing factors…

Finding Meaning in Motherhood

Although parenting solo has challenges, research indicates many single moms find deep meaning and satisfaction in raising children. Surveys have shown:

  • Over 90% of single moms say being a mother is the most important thing in their life.
  • 97% say they feel good about themselves when they think about themselves as a parent.
  • Over 75% feel they are doing an excellent or very good job as a parent.

Experts say finding purpose and joy in motherhood empowers single moms to withstand difficulties. Their children give them motivation to work hard and manage stress.

Support Systems

Another factor helping single mothers is developing strong support systems. Although solo parents lack a parenting partner, many build networks that provide practical and emotional assistance.

Sources of support include:

  • Extended family – Grandparents and other family members often help with childcare and financial needs.
  • Friends – Close friendships give single moms peers to confide in and trade favors with.
  • Community groups – Places of worship, moms’ groups, and social services provide activities and aid.
  • Partners – Boyfriends, girlfriends, or friends with benefits help some single moms even without commitment.

Single mothers rely on support networks to manage day-to-day duties and handle emergencies. Research confirms that social support enhances single mothers’ wellbeing and lowers their risk of physical and mental health problems.

Assistance Programs

Government and nonprofit assistance programs also enable single mothers’ self-sufficiency and improve their family stability.

Key assistance programs include:

  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) – provides cash assistance and support services to low-income families with children.
  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – offers food stamp benefits to qualifying households.
  • WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) – provides nutrition assistance, healthcare referrals, and breastfeeding support for low-income mothers and children under 5.
  • Head Start – supplies early childhood education, health screenings, and meals to preschoolers in need.
  • Child care subsidies – offers payments and vouchers to offset the cost of childcare for eligible families.
  • Housing assistance – includes public housing, rental vouchers, and nonprofit programs providing affordable housing.
  • Medicaid – supplies free or low-cost health coverage for parents and children with limited income and resources.

Such programs are vital sources of support for single-mother families living in poverty. Access to adequate food, housing, childcare, and healthcare eases caregiving demands on single moms.

Policy Supports for Single Moms

Government and workplace policies also impact single working mothers’ ability to balance jobs with parenting.

Key policies that aid single moms include:

  • Minimum wage – A higher minimum wage enables single moms to better support a family with a low or part-time wage.
  • Pay equity – Laws aimed at equal pay for women reduce income disparities faced by single mothers.
  • Work leave – Guaranteed paid sick leave and family leave help single moms manage caretaking needs.
  • Child care funding – Government spending on affordable childcare eases single moms’ ability to work.
  • Flexible schedules – Workplace flexibility regarding hours and work locations assists single working moms.
  • Education support – Grants, scholarships, and loans for single moms’ higher education increase earning potential.

Advocacy groups like MomsRising work to advance policy supports for issues like paid leave, affordable childcare, and equal pay that empower single working mothers.

Formal and Informal Support Networks

The supports available to single mothers often depend on whether they previously lived in a two-parent household.

According to analysis from Legal Momentum, single mothers can be categorized into two groups:

  • Separated, divorced, or widowed mothers – Previously had support of a second parent before becoming single moms.
  • Never-married mothers – Became pregnant outside marriage and have been single moms from the start.

Previously partnered single moms generally have stronger informal support networks to rely on, like existing family bonds and joint custody arrangements with their ex. Never-married single moms often have less family support and lower child support receipt, but qualify more often for needs-based government assistance.

Regardless of marital status, connecting to both informal and formal sources of support aids single mothers’ well-being and helps mitigate the challenges of solo parenting.

Effects of Children’s Ages

A mother’s happiness and stress levels may fluctuate depending on her children’s ages.

According to a survey by Today’s Parent, single moms experience the most stress when their children are:

  • Under 2 years old – High demands of infant caregiving
  • 13-18 years old – Challenges of adolescence

Single moms tend to feel most confident and satisfied when their children are:

  • 2-12 years old – More independence and school engagement
  • Over 18 years old – Increased autonomy

Single mothers may need extra support during high-stress phases associated with infants and teens. As children grow up, balancing work and parental responsibilities often gets easier.

Effects of Children’s Gender

Does the gender of a single mother’s children impact her well-being?

Research indicates:

  • Mothers of boys spend more hours each week directly caring for their children than moms of girls.
  • Moms of boys do more cooking, cleaning, and household management related to their children’s needs.
  • Mothers of boys feel more time scarcity in balancing work and family duties.

The increased demands of raising sons could contribute to higher stress and worse health outcomes among single moms of boys versus girls.

However, other studies find no differences in mothers’ mental health or parenting quality based on child gender. More research is needed on how children’s gender may influence single mothers’ experience.

Effects of a Mother’s Age

A mother’s age can impact views on single parenting as well.

According to Gallup polling:

  • Younger single moms under 30 are more likely to see benefits of single parenting, like more freedom and less conflict compared to two-parent homes.
  • Single moms between 30-49 have a more balanced view of the upsides and challenges of parenting solo.
  • Older single moms over 50 are more likely to see single parenting as an overwhelming hardship.

An older single mother’s physical health, energy levels, and social network size may influence her outlook on managing parenting demands alone.

Child Outcomes

While single motherhood presents challenges, research shows their children succeed in many ways when provided sufficient support.

Studies find:

  • There are no differences in rates of high school graduation between children raised in single-mother and two-parent families.
  • Daughters of single mothers attain higher educational levels than daughters in two-parent homes.
  • Children of single mothers score high on measures of empathy and prosocial behaviors.
  • Adolescents of single mothers show low rates of delinquency and substance use when they experience high-quality parenting.

With adequate income supports, community resources, and social policies, single mothers have proven able to raise happy and thriving children.


Single mothers clearly face exceptional challenges related to financial stress, caregiving burdens, physical health, and mental wellbeing. However, research also indicates most single moms are satisfied overall and find joy in parenting.

Support systems, assistance programs, and family-friendly policies enable many single mothers to balance work and parenting effectively. While single motherhood has tradeoffs, most single moms feel empowered by caring for their children.

Under the right conditions, single-parent families can flourish and produce positive outcomes for mothers and their children alike. With sufficient social support, these courageous mothers obtain benefits from parenthood that outweigh the hardships.

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