For most single mothers, it would seem that the bigger the city, the better the opportunity — more jobs, better public transportation and a larger community for support.
But a NerdWallet survey based largely on U.S. Census Bureau data has found places that are outside America’s largest cities seem to offer more for single moms to thrive: social stability, economic opportunity and affordable child care.
The growth of single-parent families in the U.S. is well documented. But what communities are best at supporting the nearly 25 million children being raised primarily by one parent? To find out, NerdWallet analyzed U.S. communities with populations of more than 50,000 residents against several key factors that most affect single mothers.
Can a single parent make enough to cover rent (or mortgage) and child care? As every working parent knows, child care costs are astronomical. So we considered each community’s median income, median housing costs and average day care costs for an infant and a 4-year-old. We found wide variations in average day care costs from state to state using a 2013 study by Child Care Aware of America and the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R).
Is the community stable? Poverty is a major issue for single-parent families. The census estimates that nearly half of all families headed by single mothers (who make up nearly 85% of single parents) are living in poverty. We gave more weight to communities such as Towson, Maryland, which had the lowest number of single mothers below the poverty line — just 4%. The city with the highest number of single mothers below the poverty line was Delano, California, near Bakersfield. There, 68.2% of all single mothers are raising their children below the poverty line.
Can single parents have a decent quality of life? We also looked at other key quality-of-life indicators for single moms: commuting times (knowing that longer commutes can raise child care costs and hurt quality family time), the overall strength of schools — based on data from GreatSchools — and whether you would be likely to find other families with similar structures for support.
And what about dads? NerdWallet took the same methodology and swapped in data points relevant to single fathers. There were some limitations, because census data doesn’t count the percentage of single fathers living below the poverty line, but our analysis still offered some insight into the lives of single fathers. Check out our list for single fathers.
- Single-parent families represent a major demographic shift for communities everywhere. The number of families with children under 18 headed by single parents in 1960 was 8.2%. By 2012, 28% of all U.S. children lived in a home headed by one parent, according to census data.
- Income opportunity and stability are major concerns for single parents. Nearly half of the 20 million children living with one parent live below the poverty line, according to 2013 census data.
- The city with the highest percentage of single fathers versus the entire population in our data set was Hanford, California, at 2.1% of the total population.
- The city with the highest percentage of single mothers versus the entire population was Camden, New Jersey, at 7.9% of total population.
Best cities for single mothers
1. Bartlett, Tennessee
Bartlett, a Memphis suburb, ranked No. 1 in our study largely on the strength of its affordable child care. It had among the lowest average child care costs of all communities surveyed, with parents paying just under $6,000 a year for full-time infant care, the most expensive kind of care. Compare that with an average of $16,430 a year for full-time infant day care in Massachusetts and $21,948 in the District of Columbia. Bartlett also did quite well on another key indicator: the poverty rate among its single mothers. In Bartlett, just 6% of single mothers are raising kids below the poverty line, according to census data.
2. Frisco, Texas
Frisco stood out largely because of its 10 (out of 10) from GreatSchools for its public and private schools, and for its strong median income of nearly $52,000 a year for women. And while not a formal ranking factor, it’s clear that this Dallas suburb cares about connecting socially with single parents, with many local church programs eager to minister to single mothers and fathers.
3. West Des Moines, Iowa
West Des Moines scored well on all basic markers of affordability, but jumped ahead of its peers when it came to commuting. Parents in West Des Moines enjoy an average commute time of just 16 minutes, among the lowest in our data set. In other cities we analyzed, workers regularly power through commutes of 45 minutes or longer. When the day-to-day responsibility of parenting falls on one person, long commutes can quickly strain budgets and family time.
4. Conway, Arkansas
Conway scored lower in median income for women than our other top communities, but its impressive combination of low-cost child care, affordable housing (less than $1,200 a month) and solid schools helped boost its rank. In Arkansas, single moms and dads can apply for targeted scholarships to improve their education.
5. Owensboro, Kentucky
Owensboro, the Daviess County seat, scored quite well for its low monthly housing costs and short commutes. Parents here enjoy an average monthly housing cost of under $1,000, and an average commute of 15 minutes. Single mothers in Owensboro are nearly 4% of the population, among the highest on our list, according to census data.
6. Royal Oak, Michigan
This Detroit suburb makes the top 10 for its solid performance in every ranking: highly affordable housing, reasonable day care costs, short commutes and more. It also scored well on poverty measures, with just 16.5% of its single mothers below the poverty line.
7. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
This coastal community of more than 70,000 residents has a higher monthly housing cost ($2,108 a month), but its schools ranked extremely well, with an overall GreatSchools score of 9 out of 10. Single parents may also appreciate the diverse range of affordable town-sponsored summer activities for children, from lacrosse camp to day-trip excursions.
8. Rogers, Arkansas
Like Conway, Rogers combines a low cost of living with affordable child care and strong schools. Arkansas provides an online database to help parents search for child care throughout the state.
9. Bossier City, Louisiana
Single parents here will find a growing community with strong employment opportunities. Shreveport is next door, and the Barksdale Air Force Base, which recently saw its Global Strike Command upgraded to full general status, which will increase the stability and visibility of the command in years to come.
10. Cedar Park, Texas
Like Arkansas, Texas earns two spots in our top 10 with Cedar Park, an Austin suburb. Cedar Park made the list because of the state’s affordable day care and for the city’s inexpensive housing costs. Parents there will pay a median of about $1,700 a month toward their rent or mortgage. (The highest homeowner costs in our study was $4,000 a month in Newport Beach, California.)
Best cities for single mothers
Scroll right to see all data categories.
|Rank||City||2012 Selected Median Monthly Homeowner Costs||2012 Median Earnings for Female, Full-Time Workers||Average Cost of Childcare for an Infant||Average Cost of Childcare for a 4-Year-Old||GreatSchools Rating||Single Moms with Children % of Total Population||Mean Travel Time to Work (in Mins.)||Percent Single Moms with Children Below Poverty Line||Final Weighted Score|
|3||West Des Moines, Iowa||$1,520||$43,951||$9,053||$7,790||8||2.5%||16.3||26.5%||62.8|
|6||Royal Oak, Michigan||$1,431||$49,854||$10,114||$7,930||8||2.1%||22.6||16.5%||62.0|
|7||Mount Pleasant, South Carolina||$2,108||$44,064||$6,280||$5,308||9||2.7%||22||29.4%||61.9|
|9||Bossier City, Louisiana||$1,138||$31,572||$5,574||$4,812||7||3.9%||17.8||43.4%||61.6|
|10||Cedar Park, Texas||$1,743||$46,048||$8,495||$6,547||8||3.2%||25.2||20.3%||61.5|
|13||Lake Charles, Louisiana||$1,054||$31,287||$5,574||$4,812||6||5.4%||17.6||50.1%||61.2|
|14||Overland Park, Kansas||$1,681||$43,746||$10,518||$7,499||8||2.6%||20.6||18.3%||61.2|
|20||Ann Arbor, Michigan||$1,784||$49,144||$10,114||$7,930||9||1.3%||18.9||23.3%||61.0|
Housing, income, commuting, poverty and population data: 2010-2012 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates
Schools data: GreatSchools.org ratings for each city
Day care cost estimates: 2013 study by Child Care Aware of America and the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R)
Only places with 50,000 or more residents were included in the study. Places were excluded for lack of data. For the full ranking, click here.
Image via GabrielaP93/Flickr.