Single mothers head 4.5% of all Indian households

Headline : Single mothers head 4.5% of all Indian households

Details :


In News

  • UN Women has released its flagship report ‘Progress of the world’s women 2019–2020: Families in a changing world’.
  • It assesses the reality of families today in the context of sweeping economic, demographic, political, and social transformation.
  • It also analyses key issues such as family laws, employment, unpaid care work, violence against women, and families and migration.



Data Source

  • The source for household composition information for India comes from the 2009-2010 employment survey.
  • This data on household size and household composition was combined with World Population Prospect (2017) to derive the estimates and the final figures are based on 2017 estimates of India’s population.




  • The Progress of the World’s Women report series, a periodic thematic investigation of women’s rights since 2000, seeks to spur change in laws, policies and programmes, creating an enabling environment for women and girls to realize their rights.
  • The report coincides with UN Women’s “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” campaign—in the lead up to the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995, which is considered to be one of the most visionary agendas for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.



Report Summary

  1. Global Findings
  • As women’s rights have advanced over the past decades, families around the world have become a place of love and solidarity but also one where fundamental human rights violations and gender inequalities persist
  • Although it is all too clear, through research and evidence that there is no ‘standard’ form of family, nor has there ever been. Around the world, there are concerted efforts to deny women’s agency and their right to make their own decisions in the name of protecting ‘family values’.



  • Three billion women and girls live in countries where rape within marriage is not explicitly criminalized.
  • In one out of five countries girls do not have the same inheritance rights as boys, while in others (a total of 19 countries) women are required by law to obey their husbands.
  • Around one third of married women in developing countries report having little or no say over their own healthcare.


Lone Mothers

  • A little over one third (38 per cent) of households are couples living with children; and extended families (including other relatives) are almost as common (27 per cent).
  • The vast majority of lone-parent families i.e. eight of every 10 lone-parent households are headed by women (84.3%), often juggling paid work, child-rearing and unpaid domestic work.
  • This translates to 101.3 million households where lone mothers live alone with their children. Many other single mothers live with their children in extended households.
  • The poverty rates of households with lone mothers is much higher than those of dual parent households with children 6 years of age or younger.


Labour participation

  • Women continue to enter the labour market in large numbers, but marriage and motherhood reduce their labour force participation rates, and the income and benefits that come with it
  • Globally, just over half of married women aged 25-54 are in the labour force, compared to two-thirds of single women, and 96 per cent of married men.
  • A major driver of these inequalities is the fact that women continue to do three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men in the absence of affordable care services.



  • The report puts a spotlight on the challenges that women and their families face when they migrate.
  • Unjust regulations mean that not all families have the right to family reunification and they are often excluded from access to public services.
  • When women’s migration status is tied to their partners, it can be difficult or impossible for them to escape violent relationships.



  • The age of marriage has increased in all regions, while birth rates have declined, and women have increased economic autonomy.
  • The report sheds some positive light on parental leave, with an increase of its intake by fathers, particularly in countries where specific incentives, such as ‘father quotas’, are in place that reserve a non-transferable portion of the leave for them on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis.




  1. Indian Findings
  • The report identifies India as a country with abnormally high sex ratio (greater than 105 males per 100 females) as of 2017 along with Afghanistan, Brunei, Bhutan, Malaysia and Pakistan.


Lone Mothers

  • The dominant household form in India continues to be a mix of couples living with their children of any age (46.7%), followed by extended families (31%).
  • Families while single-person families account for 12.5% and 4.5% of all Indian households are run by single mothers.
  • This puts the figure of lone mother households in India at 13 million. Another 32 million are estimated to be living in extended households
  • The poverty rate of lone-mother households is 38 per cent as compared to 22.6 per cent for dual-parent households.



  • Non-marriage remains extremely rare in India, where less than 1% of all women aged 45-49 have never been married.
  • The number of female divorcees in India has doubled over the past twenty years, but are still only 1.1 per cent of the population.
  • Women face disproportionate economic impacts from marriage, relationship dissolution and widowhood.
  • An in-depth survey found an overwhelming majority to be dependent on their natal families, particularly parents and brothers, in terms of both financial support and living arrangements after separation.


Labour Participation

  • Women’s labour force participation rate is influenced by their marital status.
  • Only 29.1% of all women aged 25-54 years are in the labour force, compared to 97.8% for men of the same age.



  • The practice of dowry continues to be rampant across India despite several feminist and equal-rights movements and legislations
  • Dowry practices can fuel violence against women when the bride’s family fails to pay the dowry in full or the gifts are deemed unsatisfactory.
  • Data on dowry-related killings from the National Crime Records Bureau in India indicate that female dowry deaths account for 40 to 50 per cent of all female homicides recorded annually, with little change between 1999 and 2016




  • In most parts of the country, arranged marriage remains commonplace. However, in some places, particularly in urban areas, this practice has been replaced by semi-arranged marriages, in which families may suggest potential matches but women make the final decision.
  • Women’s income and ownership of assets often leads to more equitable decision-making within the household. Women who own assets such as land and housing have a greater degree of protection against intimate partner violence as well as an escape route out of abusive situations.
  • The report lauds the decision taken by the Supreme Court to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), decriminalising same sex relations.




  • The report calls on policymakers, activists and people in all walks of life to transform families into places of equality and justice—where women can exercise choice and voice, and where they have physical safety and economic security.
  • Amend and reform family laws to ensure that women can choose whether, when

and who to marry; that provide the possibility of divorce if needed; and enable women’s access to family resources.

  • Recognize diverse partnership forms, to protect women’s rights in both cohabiting and same sex partnerships.
  • Invest in public services, especially education and reproductive healthcare, so that women’s and girls’ life choices are expanded, and they can make informed choices about sex and childbearing.
  • Paid parental leave, and State support for the care of children and older persons, must be considered in crafting comprehensive social protection systems that can help to sustain families.
  • Ensure women’s physical safety by implementing laws and policies to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and providing access to justice and support services for survivors of violence.




About: UN Women

  • UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.



  • For many years, the United Nations faced serious challenges in its efforts to promote gender equality globally, including inadequate funding and no single recognized driver to direct UN activities on gender equality issues.
  • In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, to address such challenges. The creation of UN Women came about as part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact.


Strategic Priorities

  • It works to position gender equality as fundamental to the Sustainable Development Goals, and a more inclusive world by focusing on four strategic priorities:
    • Women lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems
    • Women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy
    • All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence
    • Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action


Main Roles

  • Support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms.
  • Help Member States implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it, and to forge effective partnerships with civil society.
  • Lead and coordinate the UN system’s work on gender equality, as well as promote accountability, including through regular monitoring of system-wide progress.


Section : Social Issues