Legal discrimination against unmarried mothers exists in many countries. In some places unmarried mothers are denied legal recognition of their status as a parent. It is often difficult to legally establish the child's paternity, thus depriving the mother of any legal claim to assistance from the child's father.
Even more common is social ostracism of unmarried mothers. Because in most societies motherhood out of wedlock is seen as a threat to social structure, unwed mothers are viewed with distrust: they are rejecting the existing social hierarchy. Social discrimination may make it difficult for an unmarried mother to find employment, child care and housing. An unmarried mother is often obliged to raise her children alone, without the moral and financial support of the father. This increases her burden of responsibility, and, because of the demands on her time, contributes to her social exclusion. In extreme cases, social condemnation of unmarried motherhood may be so great that the murder of the unmarried mother by her brother or her father, in order to preserve the honour of the family, is condoned.
Formerly, in some countries, unmarried mothers could be imprisoned for several months for a first pregnancy and for life for a second.
In 1992 in the USA 24% of never-married women aged between 18 and 44 were also mothers.