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Over the Long Haul: The Persistent Economic Consequences of Single Motherhood

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Purpose – This chapter examines change over time in income, human capital, and socio-demographic attributes for married, divorced, and never-married mothers Methodology/approach – The chapter consists of descriptive analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth's 1979 cohort. Respondents were followed from 1979 to 2006. Findings – The economic consequences of single motherhood are persistent. Women who have once been divorced or never-married mothers remain poorer through middle age, no matter how their family structure subsequently changes. Social implications – A critical feature of the modern economic and demographic landscape is the intersection of individual and family characteristics. Many divorced and, especially, never-married mothers experience profound disadvantage even before they become mothers. Single mothers in general are far less likely to have college degrees, and, in the case of never-married mothers less likely to even have a high school diploma. Never-married mothers are also much less likely to be employed. Single mothers have less educated parents, and are themselves more likely to come from nonintact families. All of these disadvantages contribute to the economic costs – and the economic stress – of single motherhood. Originality/value of paper – The chapter demonstrates that single mothers comprise two very different populations, divorced and never-married mothers. However, both are at a substantial disadvantage compared to married mothers.
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