While the public strongly prefers the traditional mother-and-father home, this endorsement has some clear limits – -by a margin of 67% to 19%, Americans say that when there is a marriage in which the parents are very unhappy with one another, their children are better off if the parents get divorced. Similarly, by a margin of 58% to 38%, more Americans agree with the statement that “divorce is painful, but preferable to maintaining an unhappy marriage” than agree with the statement that “divorce should be avoided except in an extreme situation.” Thus, public attitudes toward divorce and single parenting have taken different paths over the past generation. When it comes to divorce, public opinion has become more accepting. When it comes to single parenting, public opinion has remained quite negative. Yet rates of divorce, after more than doubling from 1960 to 1980, have declined by about a third in recent decades, despite this greater public acceptance. On the other hand, the rates of births to unwed mothers have continued to rise, despite the steadfast public disapproval. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.