The primary cause of single-parent households in the distant past was parental death due to disease, war, maternal mortality and accidents. As a result of those high adult mortality rates, it is estimated that at least one-third of the children had lost a parent during childhood.
Today in addition to parental death, which fortunately has declined markedly over the past century, socio-cultural factors have arisen as the primary causes for single-parent households. Divorce, separation and abandonment are now major reasons for single-parent families globally. In addition, unplanned pregnancy, intended pregnancy and adoption by those who are unmarried and without partners are among the causes of single-parent households in many Western societies.
Worldwide nearly one in every seven children under age 18 years – or 320 million children – is living in a single-parent household, mostly in mother-only families. Governments and civil society need to adopt policies and establish programs providing the necessary assistance, support and opportunities to ensure that children in single-parent families are not penalized or disadvantaged, but can lead lives permitting them to develop successfully to their full potential, and thereby contribute meaningfully to overall societal wellbeing.