WASHINGTON -New information is emerging about the economic importance of unmarried women and the vital contributions they make to our economy. Almost half (47 percent) of all women in America today are unmarried—divorced, separated, widowed, or never married. Unmarried women now make up nearly a quarter (24 percent) of our total adult population, and they head 3 in 10 households. Unmarried women are raising one-quarter (25 percent) of all American children under 18 years old. Unmarried women are workers and homeowners, our neighbors and community leaders, our family members and friends.
Yet even as unmarried women make important contributions to our communities and economy, they continue to be limited by their economic circumstances. Economic status is associated with marital status, and unmarried women on average earn less and live in households with less income than unmarried men or married couples. Unmarried women have significant debt, and they have much lower median net wealth than couples or unmarried men. Overall, unmarried women have less economic security than others.
The Great Recession that began in December 2007 has heightened the importance and urgency of addressing and improving the economic security of all Americans, and unmarried women in particular. Unmarried women have, like all Americans, been hit hard by the recession—with many experiencing unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, and increased food insecurity. These circumstances also affect many of the one-quarter of American children raised by single mothers. When single mothers lose their home, suffer from hunger, or can’t find a job, their children also lose their home, go hungry, or suffer from greatly reduced household resources.
Improving the economic situation of unmarried women will help our national economy overall. Policymakers should focus on policies that will increase unmarried women’s wages and spending potential, reduce their debt and increase their wealth, and improve the lives and futures of the children they are raising. Policymakers must ensure that their efforts to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth allow all Americans—including unmarried women—to participate in and benefit from our economy and its recovery. This will, in turn, benefit our country as a whole by tapping into this group’s as-yet unrealized economic potential.The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has helped to temper the impact of the recession by saving and creating jobs and boosting social service programs, and unmarried women have benefited from many of ARRA’s provisions. This success underscores the critical role public policy can play to ensure that all people and all families are economically secure in the long term, regardless of their family status or composition.
The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people."