This article originally appeared on The Institute for Family Studies blog, who partnered with NFI President, Christopher A. Brown, for input on the reason behind the rise in single dads. Click here to read the original article.
In the 2006 film, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Will Smith portrays Chris Gardner, a single father who manages to pull himself and his young son out of homelessness by becoming a successful stockbroker. The movie is based on a true story, and we learn early on what drives Gardner when it comes to his son: he did not meet his own father until he was grown, and he’s determined that his children are going to know their father. So when his son’s mother announces plans to move away, Gardner insists, “my son stays with me.” There are some tense moments in the film when it’s easy to question whether it might have been better for the child to go with his mom—like when father and son spend the night on the filthy floor of a train station bathroom. But as we watch Gardner work hard and care tenderly for his son, it becomes clear that there is no better place for the little boy to be than with his dad.
Since the film aired just over a decade ago, it’s become more common for children in single-parent families to live with just their fathers. According to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, 16.1% of single-parent households today are headed by fathers—up from 12.5% in 2007.
Overall, most U.S. children still live with two parents, while 27.1% live with one parent—most with their mothers, who still account for the overwhelming majority of single-parent families. Even so, as the figure below shows, the share of children living with a single father has increased from about 1% of all children in the 1960s to 4.35% in 2017.
In an email, Christopher Brown, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), told me that the rise in single-father families can be attributed to two cultural factors: 1) “Men are seen as more capable parents, in general, and accepted as single fathers, specifically,” and 2) “A greater willingness of the courts to award custody to single fathers—essentially awarding custody to the best parent, regardless of gender.”
So, what are some of the characteristics of today's single dads? Here are five facts about single-father families that provide a glimpse into who they are and how they differ from single-mother families.