By Leslie Schreiber

Marriage was traditionally a social construct designed to create organized family units, and also served as a means of property and wealth distribution. In this modern era, however, marriage’s utility is not quite as necessary to our extant social order. Marriage no longer defines us as adults.

As a result of the sexual, political, economic and social victories for women in the 20th century, women—and men—are electing to delay marriage to put their own houses in order first, focusing on their careers so they can better provide for children later. As of 2013, the national marriage rate was at its lowest in over a century.[1]

In addition, there is a subset of these adults who are foregoing marriage rituals as a path to parenthood. “Single intended parents” are the adult men and women who intentionally and consciously choose to parent alone. These folks are redefining whether, how and when they become parents.

In 1960, only 4% of the population was never-married single mothers. By 2011, that number was 44%.[2] And it’s not just women making these choices. Since 1960, there has been a nine-fold increase in families headed by single fathers, from 300,000 to 2.6 million.[3]

Despite the copious amounts of research available regarding single parents, there have been no empirical fertility studies specifically addressing this subgroup of single intended parents nor their relationship to assisted reproduction. Although assisted reproduction was initially established in order to assist heterosexual couples to become parents, a significant portion of those who now seek fertility treatment with donated gametes are women without male partners.[4] In addition, a smaller portion of this sub-group are males who intend to parent alone.

Societal norms may be shifting, but the human desire to raise children remains.

[1] “More than a Century of Change,” Nat’l Ctr. For Family and Marriage Research (July 18, 2013). These statistics do not include data regarding gay marriage.

[2] See Caumont, A., “More of Today’s Single Mothers Have Never Been Married,” available at

[3] Pew Research Center, 2013.

[4] Zadeh, S., Freeman, T., & Golombok, S., “Absence or Presence? Complexities in the Donor Narratives of Single Mothers Using Sperm Donations,” Human Reproduction (Oxford Univ. Press 2015) (citing De Wert et al., 2014, HFEA, 2014).