But real statistics indicate otherwise. Today, there are about 10 million single mothers with children younger than 18 in the U.S., but they are older (average age, 39) and almost one-third have the support of a live-in partner. They do tend to have lower household incomes than their married counterparts, but most of them, about 80%, are working moms.
Why should single moms even matter to marketers? They're certainly not the majority of women in the U.S. But consider this: About 40% of all children are born to single mothers today. The trend of single motherhood isn't slowing, and these women influence not only the children they're raising, but also their peers, thanks to technology, and their extended families, thanks to their participation in the growing trend of multigenerational households.
"That old fashioned idea that a single mother is someone who got pregnant by accident or didn't want a child is just not true anymore. These days there are plenty of single moms by choice," said Dana Points, editor in chief of Parents/American Baby.
The stigma that goes along with that stereotype is waning as well. Ms. Points quoted 2010 Pew research that found that 52% of millennials think being a good parent is "one of the most important things" in life, compared to just 30% who said the same thing about a successful marriage. That 23% differential was just a 7% difference only decade ago when those same questions were asked.
"Millennials seem to be minimalizing the importance of marriage related to the importance of parenthood," Ms. Points said, adding that to reflect today's parenting reality in the magazine, she is careful about words like "husband" or "spouse," changing them to "partner" when used generally.
Single mothers today are also traditionalists. Even though their unmarried head-of -household families may not classify them in a typical government designation, 55% of single moms agreed to the statement, "I consider myself to be a very traditional mom," in a recent Women at NBCU study. Sixty-four percent of married women also agreed they are traditional.
"In a time when there are probably more kinds of unconventional families than ever, there is a huge upsurge in the idea of traditional. Traditional is becoming the aspiration for all moms," said Melissa Lavigne-Delville, VP-trends and strategic insights, integrated media at NBCUniversal. "They're defining tradition less about the statistics like whether they're married couples or have biological children, and more about the cornerstones and values of what matters in their families like sitting down to eat together."
The NBCU study segmented all mothers into eight different categories, and found that four of those categories skewed heavily single. Of those four, each differed greatly in both demographics and thinking.
The first group, for example, tended to be more like the traditional stereotype of single motherhood. Ms. Lavigne-Delville calls that group "Girl Interrupted," and she is more likely to be young, Caucasian, and have a lower income. This group makes up 13% of moms, and their outlook on life tends to be one of personal sacrifice for their children, and a life interrupted by the birth of a child. They are more likely to live with extended family, but don't receive a lot of support. As Ms. Lavigne-Deville pointed out, it may not be the happiest group of women for marketers, but they are the most tech-connected with influence and of all the mom segments. "Reach them digitally, and don't just write them off. Because they've got lots of friends," she said.
Another young demographic group, the "Dream Girls," or 15% of moms, has a much sunnier outlook on life and are "extra psyched" to be moms. They are more likely to be Hispanic, are tech connected and tend to have a lot of family and friend support. Their optimism about opportunities and having it all could be a marketer's opening for inspirational and aspirational messaging, Ms. Lavigne-Deville said.
The third single-mom demo from NBCU is the "Survivor Mom." She is older, more likely to be divorced or widowed, and struggles financially. However, this mom is also independent and confident in her parenting choices and purchases. This segment, 13% of the total, is the most brand loyal.
And last there are the "Secondlife Moms." This is an older-skewing group more likely to be divorced, but also more likely to be educated, work full time, and be financially secure. They're experiencing life again and looking for new brands. Ms. Lavigne-Deville said they are a bit of a "mommybopper," living out those teen years a bit, with online dating, new clothing and going out with friends as common activities.
In general, even though they are quite different, the single-mom stigma didn't hold up for the moms in the NBCU study. When asked if single moms are accepted more by mainstream society, 92% said yes. And 93% agreed that in the next 10 to 20 years, there will be even more single moms.