unmarried mother/father

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meijin

Senior Member
Japanese
If I'm not mistaken, "unmarried" and "single" mean the same thing, so "unmarried mother/father" and "single mother/father" should also mean the same.
Is the term "single mother" much more common than "unmarried mother" just because it's a little easier to say?

e.g.
"My friend Erika is an unmarried mother with two children." "Oh, how old are the children?"

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  • Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    The meanings are not necessarily the same, though in your context they almost certainly are.
    An unmarried mother could be living with someone (even the child's actual father) as a proper couple, but without actually being married.
    A single mother is partner-less.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    If I'm not mistaken, "unmarried" and "single" mean the same thing, so "unmarried mother/father" and "single mother/father" should also mean the same.
    Is the term "single mother" much more common than "unmarried mother" just because it's a little easier to say?

    e.g.
    "My friend Erika is an unmarried mother with two children." "Oh, how old are the children?"

    Ngram Viewer
    No they certainly don't mean the same thing, or not in BE anyway.

    The expression "single mother" usually implies just that the mother is not living with the child's father (and may not even know who he is). In contrast, an "unmarried mother" which is now rather a quaintly old-fashioned term, would if taken literally include mothers where a couple are living together as long-term partners with no intention of ever getting married. So largely for that reason, the term "single mother" is nowadays used instead.

    It's in my experience very uncommon to come across the term "single/unmarried father".

    [cross-posted]
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    I agree with the above posts. A single mother could also refer to a widow or a divorcee bringing up a child. (A single woman with an adult son who takes care of himself wouldn't be called a single mother.)
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you all very much. You're absolutely right about the difference between single and unmarried! :thumbsup:
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think the term "single parent" is far more common than any of the other terms mentioned.

    Definitely, "unmarried mother" should be avoided; it is old-fashioned and implies moral deviance. I am sure that many would be offended by that term, especially if the mother had been married but was now divorced or widowed.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    I agree with #8. "Single dad" is fairly common and "single parent" is even more common.

    "Unmarried mother" implies the woman was unmarried at the time the child was born. This term has a negative connotation. "Single parent" implies that the children live with that parent full-time, or most of the time.

    Schools and other official organizations often use the term "single parent" rather than "single mother", because some are fathers. In the US, in 2013, 17% of custodial parents were men.
     
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