Single Father by Choice: The Newest Trend
Is it any better for kids than single motherhood?


Ian Tuttle

Outrage greeted the 2007 publication of Louise Sloan’s Knock Yourself Up: No Man? No Problem: A Tell-All Guide to Becoming a Single Mom. But Sloan, the former editor-in-chief of American Express Custom Publishing, published only the most comic of the recent books on the subject. (She recounts “cyberstalking an anonymous sperm donor, dealing with exploding semen vials, and being mistaken for a horse breeder.”) An Amazon search turns up, among others, Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman’s Guide; Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood without Marriage and Creating the New American Family; and the original SMC manual, Single Mothers by Choice: A Guidebook for Single Women Who Are Considering or Have Chosen Motherhood.

Now it looks like men are taking a page out of these books.

National Public Radio reports: “B. J. Holt always wanted to be a dad. As he approached 40, with no life partner in sight, he felt a version of the ticking biological clock. . . . So Holt decided to go it alone. A few years ago, he used an egg donor and a surrogate to create a family of his own.”

Holt is at the fore of the newest trend: the SFC, or single father by choice.

The data on this trend, though, are unreliable. The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA that studies same-sex issues, reports that 1 million never-married men were raising children alone in 2010, but it is unclear how the institute arrived at this number. The Census Bureau provides for two broad arrangements of unmarried “family groups,” which are defined as “any two or more persons (not necessarily a householder) residing together, and related by birth, marriage, or adoption.” The first arrangement is the “two-parent unmarried family group,” in which the child is the biological offspring of two parents who live together but are not married. The second arrangement is the “one-parent unmarried family group,” in which the child is biologically related to a single parent. The problem with the second grouping is that it covers both single parents living alone with their child and parents cohabiting with a partner who is not biologically related to the child.

Thus there are significant difficulties when discussing the Census data with regard to SFCs. Furthermore, the Census Bureau does not inquire about single fatherhood by choice, so men who are separated or divorced could be raising children by choice as well. And the Census Bureau does not ask about the sexual orientation of parents, so it is difficult to tell how many single fathers are homosexual and how many heterosexual. Adoption and surrogacy agencies have recently reported an increase in interest from single men; anecdotal evidence suggests that it is single gay men who are largely the cause of this spike in interest.

Until more careful studies appear, skepticism should greet attempts to determine exactly how many men are single fathers by choice. But even so, some rough estimates are available by collating various data. The Census Bureau’s 2011 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) reports 1.7 million fathers raising “alone” at least one child younger than 18. Of those, 541,000 (31.2 percent) have never been married; 784,000 (45.2 percent) are divorced; 321,000 (18.5 percent) are separated; and the remaining 88,000 (5.1 percent) are widowed. Single fathers by choice could potentially be in any of these groups.

Furthermore, the 2010 Census shows a 1.6 percentage-point increase in “Male householder, other family” households from 1990 to 2010, accompanied by a 6.8 percentage-point decrease in married-couple households. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2010, opposite-sex unmarried-partner households increased by 40 percent, and same-sex households increased by 80 percent (although the latter still constitute less than 1 percent of all households in the country).