Back to Next Generation

Shriver Report About Women in Poverty Shines a Spotlight on Unmarried Births and Single Motherhood


Anastasia Ordonez

Shriver Report About Women in Poverty Shines a Spotlight on Unmarried Births and Single Motherhood

Chapter by Family Policy Expert Ann O’Leary Focuses on Rise of Unmarried Births in U.S. and Its Impact on Children

San Francisco, CA—In a report to be released on Sunday by Maria Shriver, titled “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink”, family policy expert Ann O’Leary describes the rise of unplanned pregnancies and single motherhood in America, and the significant implications for children and our nation’s economy. O’Leary’s chapter describes changing trends in marriage and family structure during the past 50 years, and offers recommendations on how we must help women in poverty better meet the challenges they face.

Using the voices of national gender and family experts, and data drawn from decades of research, the Shriver Report describes how American women have made many advances socially, while they still suffer many economic disadvantages. According to the report, more women are primary breadwinners in their families than ever before, yet they make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers. Women still earn only $.77 to every $1.00 that a man earns. Additionally, women continue to serve as primary caretakers for children and ill family members while increasingly juggling additional challenges like single motherhood.

In her chapter, O’Leary reviews the breakdown of unmarried mothers across racial and economic lines, as well as by educational attainment, and unveils disturbing trends. For example, the number of unmarried births has quadrupled since 1964, and more than 60 percent of unmarried births are to women in their 20s, with the largest share to women ages 20 to 24. O’Leary’s research shows that educational attainment is the best indicator of whether a women will have children within marriage or not—93 percent of unmarried births are to women who have less than a college degree.

“We are in the midst of a national crisis, wherein too many cases, parents who had not intended to get pregnant are unprepared for the responsibilities associated with raising a child alone,” said Ann O’Leary, Vice President and Director of the Children & Families program at Next Generation. “Society thus far has been unwilling or unable either to curb the rise in unplanned pregnancies or to accommodate this change in family makeup. We must find a way to concretely tackle these challenges if we aim to break the cycle of poverty for families in America.”

The rise in unmarried births has meant changes in the lives of men, as well, with about 40 percent of low-income men not living with their children, compared to 11 percent in 1960.

O’Leary makes policy recommendations for reversing these trends that include improving education opportunities for all women, and offering more effective contraceptive methods as well as better sex education.

“It’s no secret that women carry the lion’s share of family responsibilities, including childcare, eldercare and work outside of the home,” said Maria Shriver. “But women who are already struggling to make ends meet often shoulder this burden alone or with very few resources. We must do a better job in this country at supporting the mothers, sisters, and daughters who keep us all moving forward.”

The report will be available for free download at from January 12-15.


About Next Generation

Next Generation promotes solutions to two of the biggest challenges confronting the next generation of Americans:  The risk of dangerous climate change, and the threat of diminished prospects for children and families. Through the use of non-partisan research, policy development, and strategic communications, we identify strategies that help deploy clean, advanced energy technologies; we also work to ensure a level playing field from which today’s kids can build a brighter future.

Learn more at, and on Twitter @nextgen_USA.

Join the Conversation