DECEMBER 11, 01:59 EST

Single Dads Increase 25 Percent

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Males account for a larger proportion of single parents than they did three years ago, a trend some suggest is caused by a greater emphasis on the role of fathers. However, single mothers still outnumber single fathers by nearly five to one.

Figures released today by the Census Bureau show that the number of single fathers raising children has increased about 25 percent over the past three years. There are now 2.1 million single fathers, up from 1.7 million in 1995.

In contrast, the number of single mothers has stayed the same since 1995, at 9.8 million, the bureau reported.

``I don't think society still accepts single fathering as readily as single mothering,'' said Dr. Wade Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. But, he added, the increase in the number of single fathers suggests that more fathers are asserting their interest in bringing up their children.

The statistics reflect an ``increased trend toward a more active role in fathering,'' said Lynne Casper, the report's author. She pointed to changes in the way custody is granted to parents and more social acceptance of single parenting by fathers as possible reasons for the trend.

Another factor could be the rise of groups that promote fathers' rights and encourage men to take an active role in raising their children, Casper said.

Horn said in cases of divorce, fathers might be more likely now to challenge the notion that mothers automatically should get custody.

Two decades ago, if the mother could not or did not want to raise the child, ``it would have been more likely that the grandparents would have stepped in and taken the child,'' he said.

One obstacle that single fathers still face is that they lack some of the social networks in place for women raising children alone, Horn said.

``Plus, men don't seek out that support as readily as women do,'' he acknowledged. ``Some of the isolation is self-imposed.''

According to the Census Bureau, one-parent families account for 27 percent of all households with children, up from 24 percent in 1990 and 11 percent in 1970.

Other findings in the report:

— Sixty-nine percent of the 102.5 million households in the United States are family households. The bureau defines a family as two or more people living together and related by birth, marriage or adoption.

— The average U.S. family consists of 3.18 people, unchanged from 1990 and down from 3.58 in 1970. Hispanic families average 3.92 members; African-American families, 3.42; and white families, 3.02 members.

— Forty-nine percent of family households contain children under age 18, down from 56 percent in 1970.

— More adult sons and daughters, over the age of 18, are living at home. Nearly 22 million of them live in a home with one or two parents, up from 15 million in 1970.