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In U.S., Single-Parent Households Struggle More to Buy Food

In U.S., Single-Parent Households Struggle More to Buy Food

by Jessica Stutzman and Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the U.S., 31% of single-parent households report times in the past 12 months when they struggled to afford food, much more than the 19% of two-parent households who say the same, according to an analysis of adults aged 18 to 50. Single-parent households also report greater difficulty affording food than do unmarried and single adults who do not have children. But, in households with two adults, the percentage who struggled at times to afford food is the same -- 19% -- regardless of the presence of children in the home.

Percentage Who STruggled to Afford Food, by Marital Status and Children in the Home

These data are based on more than 36,000 interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index with adults aged 18 to 50 from Jan. 1-June 27, 2013. Over this time period, 23% of all Americans aged 18 to 50 reported struggling to afford food. However, the large majority of all Americans do not report struggling to afford food.

Having a child present in the home does not, by itself, make a household more likely to report struggling to afford food. Rather, having a child compounds the difficulty single-adult households already face.

Food Insecurity Increases With Three or More Children in the Household

Among all households, those with three or more children are significantly more likely than those with two or fewer children to say the family struggled to afford food in the past 12 months. This jumps from 21% to 22% of those with up to two children to 27% of those with three children and to 30% of those with four or more children.

Percentage Who Struggled to Afford Food, by Number of Children in the Home

Having three or more children in a household increases food insecurity, regardless of whether there are one or two adults in the home.

Younger Parents Struggle More to Afford Food at Times

Regardless of how many adults are in a household, younger parents are more likely to report struggling to afford food than their older counterparts. Nearly three in 10 adults aged 18 to 30 with at least one child in the household struggled to afford food in the past 12 months, compared with 21% of adults in the same age group who do not have a child in the home.

Percentage Who Struggled to Afford Food, by Age and Children in the Home

One age group does not follow this pattern: adults aged 41 to 50. Among this group, 23% of those who do not have children report struggling to afford food, compared with 19% of those with at least one child at home. Adults aged 41 to 50 who have children are more likely to be in a two-adult household than are those the same age who have no children, which may be part of the reason they are less likely to struggle to afford food.

Bottom Line

As the U.S. continues to recover from the recent recession, some groups are facing more challenges than others. Single-parent households, young parents, and parents with three or more children are struggling more than others to afford food. Although slightly improved from 2009 and 2010, unemployment remains high, making it harder for those of less means or with less of a support system to begin with to provide for their families.

For children especially, proper nutrition is crucial. Hunger among children can affect their overall health and impair their growth and development. Hunger can also stifle children's ability to learn and can cause general behavioral issues. With more than a third of single-parent households struggling to afford food, addressing these high-risk families' needs is vital to ensuring that the children in these homes have what they need to succeed.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 1-June 27, 2013, with a random sample of 36,772 adults, aged 18 to 50 years, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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