Difficulties of single parents include inadequate social security or other income, lack of child-care facilities and debt, resulting in general poverty and stress, as well as emotional problems. Single parents may find themselves discriminated against in housing and may have to make do with inadequate facilities. Single parents may be widows or widowers, divorcees, or unmarried mothers or fathers.
The number of single parents rises substantially with an increase in the divorce rate. In this respect the incidence may be higher in developed countries, where traditional family patterns are changing. The number of unmarried mothers, and to a lesser extent unmarried fathers, is rising in so-called 'permissive society' where birth control is not fully effective. In other societies, single parents may occur as a result of widowhood or in a system of cohabitation such as that of the West Indies.
Young single mothers living with their parents form 'concealed' households because they are responsible for supporting their children. Alternatively, the their family may be assisting in the support of them and their children. Discrimination against women plays a large part in the difficulties of single parents, who are for the most part women.
In 1971, 8% of families had a single parent in the UK. By 1988, this had doubled to 16%. In 1994, there were 1.3 million single parents – two thirds of them divorced. The biggest category of single parents are separated or divorced wives, 60%. The percentage of children in the UK living in single parent families increased from 8% in 1972 to 15% in 1989. In 1993 they were estimated to cost the government £66 million per week in social benefits support. Single parent families in Scotland comprised 6% of the population, but one third of the priority rehousing applications. In the USA in 1993 it was estimated that half of all children will spend some time in a single parent household. In the USA in 1992, 24% of never-married women aged between 18 and 44 were also mothers. From 1980 to 1993 the number of single fathers there doubled to 1.4 million.