The Father Factor

This Rising Trend Bodes Ill for Future Dads and Their Children

Most Recent Fatherhood Posts

Dec 14, 2021

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A rising share of men in the U.S. live without a spouse or partner. This rise is especially troubling for those men who might one day become dads.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly 40 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 54 are unpartnered, an 11 percent rise from 1990 to 2019. Unpartnered men—those unmarried and not living with a partner—have now surpassed unpartnered women. Gaps on a range of economic, social, and other outcomes have ballooned between unpartnered and partnered men, gaps that either don’t exist or are much smaller between unpartnered and partnered women.

What are the implications for serving expectant and first-time dads?

I’ll attempt to answer that question momentarily. First, however, I’ll share some of the troubling statistics.

  • The proportion of unpartnered men has risen sharply since 1990 from 29 percent to 39 percent.
  • Since 1990 the gap between unpartnered and partnered men in obtaining a bachelor’s degree has grown from 3 to 11 percent in favor of partnered men.
  • The gap in employment, while smaller, has also grown since 1990 in favor of partnered men from 16 percent to 18 percent.

Today there are large gaps in economic and other outcomes between unpartnered men and partnered men.

  • The median income of unpartnered men is only 66 percent that of partnered men ($37,600 compared to $57,000).
  • On the related measure of financial vulnerability, unpartnered men are nearly three times more likely to be financially vulnerable (36 percent) than partnered men (13 percent).*
  • When it comes to an important measure of the ability to live independently, 31 percent of unpartnered men live with their parents compared to only 2 percent of partnered men. While most of these men are young men, fully one-fifth of men 40 to 54 years of age (20 percent) live with their parents.

Implications for Serving Expectant and First-Time Dads

Why does all of this matter?

While the rise in unpartnered men has broad societal consequences—namely, as the study points out, that unpartnered adults often have worse economic, social, and health outcomes than partnered adults—organizations that serve dads should brace themselves for the wave of expectant and first-time fathers that’s already arrived on their shores.

These men are likely to be more poorly equipped than previous generations of men for the challenge of fatherhood. Unpartnered men are simply more likely when they eventually become a dad to lack the foundation to succeed in that role, at least when they first enter it. For organizations that serve dads, they need to place an emphasis on providing resources that make up for the challenges many unpartnered dads will have, such as the need to find employment, increase their education, develop skills in healthy relationships, improve their health, and learn how to live independently. Having these wrap-around services in place to help unpartnered dads build the foundation they need as quickly as possible will help ensure that they become the dads their children and partners need them to be. (National Fatherhood Initiative® highlights the importance of wrap-around services in our online, on-demand Recruitment & Retention Certificate™ training.)

I encourage you to read the study. It includes lots of rich data and something I didn’t share in this post—what’s driving this rise in unpartnered men. The answer might surprise you.

Has your organization braced for the wave of unpartnered men becoming dads?

What do you think is driving this troubling trend?


*Financially vulnerable men have incomes that fall below 150 precent of the official poverty level for a one-person household.

Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: non-custodial fathers, single parenting, single dads, child welfare, Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies, child best interests

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