Socio-economic differences in the prevalence of single motherhood in North America and Europe

Judith C. Koops*, Aart C. Liefbroer, Anne H. Gauthier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The study focuses on understanding the association between parental socio-economic status (SES) and the likelihood of women experiencing a first birth while single, and identifying societal factors that influence this association in 18 North American and European societies. Previous research has shown that single motherhood occurs disproportionately among those from with lower a lower parental SES. The study assesses whether this is caused by parental SES differences in the risk of single women experiencing a first conception leading to a live birth or by parental SES differences in how likely women are to enter a union during pregnancy. Additionally, an assessment is made of whether cross-national differences in these associations can be explained by a country’s access to family planning, norms regarding family formation, and economic inequality. Across countries, a negative gradient of parental SES was found on the likelihood of single women to experience a first pregnancy. The negative gradient was stronger in countries with better access to family planning. In some countries, the negative gradient of parental SES was aggravated during pregnancy because women from lower parental SES were less likely to enter a union. This was mostly found in societies with less conservative norms regarding marriage. The results suggest that certain developments in Western societies may increase socio-economic differentials in family demography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)825-849
Number of pages25
JournalEuropean Journal of Population
Issue number4-5
Early online date13 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007–2013) under ERC Grant Agreement n. 324178 (Project: Contexts of Opportunity. PI: Aart C. Liefbroer).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Childbearing
  • Europe
  • Fertility
  • Marriage
  • North America
  • Single parenthood


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