Census shows significant increase in Wisconsin’s single-father households

June 2, 2011

The number of single-father households in Wisconsin is increasing, according to Census 2010 figures released in mid-May.

The census data show the number of households with children under age 18 headed by single fathers has risen by 35.2 percent since 2000.

The largest growth among family households in the state was reported for single-father households with children. Single-mother households with children reported the next largest growth, at 13.4 percent, well below the 35.2 percent reported by single-father households.

More than 15,000 additional family households with children were headed by single fathers in 2010 than in 2000. A similar increase was reported for single-mother households, at 17,336.

“Single-mother households outnumber single-father households, yet the rate of growth is much higher among single-father households,” says Katherine Curtis, demographic specialist and faculty affiliate of the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “As a society, we tend to focus on single-mother households because of our traditional ideas about the responsibility of parenthood. We typically look to mothers to take responsibility for children.”

The growth in single-father households suggests more fathers might be taking responsibility.

Single-parent households result from divorce, death or parents not marrying.

“The Census 2010 data do not tell us what is causing the increase in single-parent households, nor does it provide information on the consequences,” says Curtis. However, she adds, one challenge faced by single-parent families is that there is likely only one adult earner in the household.

“Households with one earner have a lower earnings potential as compared to households with two adult earners,” she says. “This puts single-parent households at greater risk of financial insecurity, and single-mother households are at an even greater risk given gender inequality in wages.”

The number of family households with children headed by fathers grew from 42,757 to 57,788 between 2000 and 2010. Despite this growth, single-parent families remain mostly headed by females.

Married-couple households with children are still the majority of family households with children in Wisconsin, even though their number declined by 10.2 percent. Married-couple households made up 68.5 percent of the state’s family households with children in 2010 as compared to 74.2 percent in 2000. At the same time, the number of all married-couple households increased by 2.1 percent.

The total number of family households with children declined by 2.7 percent between 2000 and 2010.

“The overall decline in families with children reflects the trend for married-couple households since they make up the majority of family households in Wisconsin,” says Curtis. “A decline in married-couple households with children could result from married Baby Boomers whose children have grown, lower birth rates and smaller family sizes, or a delay in decisions to get married and/or have children.”

The state’s child population declined by 2.1 percent, falling from 1.37 million in 2000 to 1.34 million in 2010.

Census data also show a 40.8 percent increase in unmarried-partner households and a 15.2 percent increase in households where people live alone.

These households are not reported as family households, but the increase might be associated with trends in single-parent households, because some of these households are made up of parents who have not married or of divorced parents whose children were residing with the other parent on Census Day (April 1, 2010).

Most counties in the state reported an increase in the proportion of single-father households. St. Croix County reported the biggest growth at 75 percent, followed by Lafayette (60.5 percent), Sauk (59.4 percent) and Buffalo (58.6 percent) counties.

Four counties reported a decline in the proportion of single-father households, including Bayfield, Forest, Menominee and Price counties. Bayfield County reported the largest decline at 25.9 percent. Forest County reported no change, while all other counties reported significant growth or decline in single-father households.

“Changes in households have implications for communities ranging from school enrollment to residential choices,” according to Curtis. “Current and future classroom and housing demands are affected by demographic changes in households.”

Tables and a map summarizing select state and county trends are available here. All data are publicly available and can be accessed through the Census Bureau’s search engine, American FactFinder.