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The triple bind of single-parent families Resources, employment and policies to improve well-being

Authors:
The triple bind
of single-parent
families
Resources, employment and
policies to improve well-being
Edited by
Rense Nieuwenhuis
Laurie C. Maldonado
THE TRIPLE BIND OF
SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES
Resources, employment and policies
to improve wellbeing
Edited by Rense Nieuwenhuis
and Laurie C. Maldonado
First published in Great Britain in 2018 by
Policy Press North America oce:
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iii
Contents
List of figures and tables vii
List of abbreviations xiii
Notes on contributors xv
Acknowledgements xxiii
one The triple bind of single-parent families: resources, 1
employment and policies
Rense Nieuwenhuis and Laurie C. Maldonado
Part 1: Adequate resources
two Single-mother poverty: how much do educational 31
differences in single motherhood matter?
Juho Härkönen
three The ‘wealth-being’ of single parents 51
Eva Sierminska
four Income poverty, material deprivation and 81
lone parenthood
Morag C. Treanor
five Single motherhood and child development in the UK 101
Susan Harkness and Mariña Fernández Salgado
six Single parenthood and children’s educational 125
performance: inequality among families and schools
Marloes de Lange and Jaap Dronkers
seven Wellbeing among children with single parents 145
in Sweden: focusing on shared residence
Emma Fransson, Sara Brolin Låftman, Viveca Östberg
and Malin Bergström
Part 2: Adequate employment
eight A life-course approach to single mothers’ economic 171
wellbeing in different welfare states
Hannah Zagel and Sabine Hübgen
The triple bind of single-parent families
iv
nine Doesn’t anyone else care? Variation in poverty 195
among working single parents across Europe
Jeroen Horemans and Ive Marx
ten Middle-class single parents 223
Young-hwan Byun
eleven Does the use of reconciliation policies enable single 239
mothers to work? A comparative examination of
European countries
Wim Van Lancker
twelve Whose days are left? Separated parents’ use of 263
parental leave in Sweden
Ann-Zofie Duvander and Nicklas Korsell
thirteen Matched on job qualities? Single and coupled parents 285
in European comparison
Ingrid Esser and Karen M. Olsen
fourteen The health penalty of single parents in institutional 311
context
Rense Nieuwenhuis, Anne Grete Tøge and Joakim Palme
Part 3: Adequate redistributive policies
fifteen Cash benefits and poverty in single-parent families 337
Jonathan Bradshaw, Antonia Keung and Yekaterina Chzhen
sixteen The role of universal and targeted family benefits in 359
reducing poverty in single-parent families in different
employment situations
Ann Morissens
seventeen Policies and practices for single parents in Iceland 383
Guðný Björk Eydal
eighteen The structural nature of the inadequate social floor 401
for single-parent families
Bea Cantillon, Diego Collado and Natascha Van Mechelen
v
Contents
Part 4: Reflections and conclusions
nineteen Social justice, single parents and their children 421
Gideon Calder
twenty The socioeconomics of single parenthood: 437
reflections on the triple bind
Janet C. Gornick
twenty-one Conclusion 449
Laurie C. Maldonado and Rense Nieuwenhuis
Index 459
1
ONE
The triple bind of single-parent
families: resources,
employment and policies
Rense Nieuwenhuis1 and Laurie C. Maldonado
The days when Tolstoy opened Anna Karenina with ‘Happy families
are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’, to
reflect a dominant discourse on the nuclear family as the singular
form of happiness and wellbeing, are long gone. Alongside the second
demographic transition – women gaining economic independence and
better control over their fertility, improvements in gender equality and
changing norms on family and gender – a diversity of family forms
emerged. Wellbeing and happiness, as well as unhappiness, can be
found in all families, regardless of family structure. This challenges the
assertion that any one family form will always ensure wellbeing over
another. Indeed, as Myrdal and Klein noted in 1956: ‘Though it is
fairly easy to describe what constitutes a bad home, there is no simple
definition of a good one. Conformity with the traditional pattern
certainly is no guarantee of the happiest results’ (p.126).
In ongoing debates on high and rising inequality, there is reason for
concern as to whether policies are able to keep up with the changing
dynamics of families. Families and inequality are at the centre of this
debate. The focus of this book is the wellbeing of single parents and
their children, broadly defined as including emotional and cognitive
wellbeing, school performance, work–family balance and health, as
well as economic wellbeing, employment and the absence of poverty.
Single-parent families face challenges that are constantly evolving,
and in relation to these challenges they are more likely to experience
(periods of) impaired wellbeing compared to, for instance, coupled-
parent families. This is in part because in most countries lower
socioeconomic wellbeing leads to single parenthood being more
common, and in part due to single parents facing more challenges
in securing wellbeing for themselves and their families. This book
predominantly deals with the latter: under what combination of
The triple bind of single-parent families
2
conditions can single parents have better wellbeing? Explanations for
single parents’ wellbeing are often quick to emphasise that single parents
on average have fewer resources, such as their lower level of education.
Yet, without discounting the importance of such resources, this book
will demonstrate that how single parents’ resources are expressed in
terms of their wellbeing fundamentally depends on their employment
conditions and their social policy context. Single parents’ employment
is aected by labour markets that are increasingly characterised by
wage inequality and precariousness. Policies and institutions matter
for single-parent families, while welfare states face budget constraints
and adapt their social policies with more reliance on employment.
Indeed, the main argument of this book is that single parents, more
often than many other families, have to negotiate the complexities of
a triple bind: the interplay between inadequate resources, inadequate
employment and inadequate policies.
Single parents’ wellbeing
The terminology of single parenthood is complex, and what it means
to be a single parent has changed over time and varies across the
single parents’ life course. By default, we use the term ‘single parent’
(or single-parent household) to refer to those parents who raise one
or more of their children while not living in the same household as
their partner. We do not use this term to dierentiate parents who
were single when they had their child from those who separated or
were bereaved. Single parents can live with other adults in the same
household, such as grandparents, but not with a (new) partner. We
refer to ‘coupled parents’ (or coupled-parent households) to reflect that
either or both of the adults in the household are the biological parent
of the child or children, and to include re-partnered parents. Where
necessary, chapters introduce more detailed terminology.
Trends in single parenthood are presented in Figure1.1, showing
single-parent households as a percentage of all households with
dependent children for 24countries.2 In the majority of countries,
except perhaps Estonia and Slovakia, prevalence of single parenthood
was stable or rising during recent decades. In the US and the UK, and
more recently in Sweden, Denmark and Ireland, approximately 25% of
all households with children were headed by a single parent. Although
not shown in Figure1.1, the majority of single-parent families are
headed by women. In OECD countries, only about 12% of single-
parent families were headed by a father (OECD, 2011).
3
The triple bind of single-parent families
Figure1.2 shows the employment rates among single parents.
Typically, these rates are high: close to, or above, 80% of the heads of
single-parent families are actively involved in some form of gainful
employment. The United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as the
Netherlands in early years, form exceptions with lower employment
Figure 1.1: Trends in single parenthood
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Spain Sweden United Kingdom United States
Norway Poland Slovakia Slove nia
Israel Italy Luxembourg Netherlands
Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland
Estonia Finland France Germany
Austria Canada Czech Republic Denmark
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Single-parent prevalence (% of families with dependent children)
The triple bind of single-parent families
4
among single-parent families. Trends varied across countries, with
single parents’ employment rising in the Netherlands, Canada and to
some extent the US. A decline was observed in France and Sweden.
Figure1.3 shows the ‘at risk of poverty’ (AROP) rates of single-parent
families. Despite the high employment rates we saw in Figure1.2, it
Figure 1.2: Trends in single parents’ employment
• •
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• •
• •
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Spain Sweden United Kingdom United States
Norway Poland Slovakia Slovenia
Israel Italy Luxembourg Netherlands
Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland
Estonia Finland France Germany
Austria Canada Czech Republic Denmark
1980
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2010
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Year
Employment rate
5
The triple bind of single-parent families
is clear that single-parent families face high risks of poverty. Although
not shown, poverty risks among single-parent families are substantially
higher than those among coupled-parent families (Maldonado &
Nieuwenhuis, 2015). The poverty threshold of 60% of median
household income is the European Commission’s ocial indicator of
Figure 1.3: Trends in single parents’ poverty risks
• •
• •
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• •
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• •
• • • •
• •
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Spain Sweden United Kingdom United States
Norway Poland Slovakia Slovenia
Israel Italy Luxembourg Netherlands
Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland
Estonia Finland France Germany
Austria Canada Czech Republic Denmark
1980
1990
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2010
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Poverty line 40 50 60
The triple bind of single-parent families
6
being at risk of poverty. Many countries have seen an increase in single
parents’ poverty. Declines were observed in Ireland and the Netherlands
(where we saw a strong rise in single parents’ employment), and in
recent years in the UK. By definition, the AROP rates based on the
poverty threshold at 60% of median household income are higher than
those at 50% or 40% of the median. In most countries, the trends in
poverty are similar across the dierent indicators.
Yet, in some countries we observed that the AROP rate based
on the 60% indicator was rising faster than the risk based on the
40% indicator. This suggests that while the number of single-parent
households in poverty was rising, based on the ocial definition by the
European Commission, the number of households living on extremely
low incomes was not rising as quickly. This was the case in France,
Germany, Sweden and the UK in the 1990s, for instance. The US
stands out for having the highest single-parent family poverty rates,
particularly based on the 40% indicator (see Casey & Maldonado,
2012).
In part related to facing higher poverty risks, single parenthood
has been associated with disadvantaged socioeconomic wellbeing
in various regards. Single parents are more likely to experience
disadvantages in the labour market, which to an important extent
are gendered (Sainsbury, 1999). Employment is not only part of the
explanation of single parents’ (lack of) economic wellbeing but also
an important outcome in itself providing independence, identity
and an investment in skills and future opportunities, among other
things. As the majority of single-parent households are headed by
women, they are more likely to face lower wages and have less work
experience and fewer career opportunities. Related to their often-
limited financial means, single parents are more likely than coupled
parents to experience material deprivation (Chzhen & Bradshaw,
2012). Single parents, often associated with their perceived role as
welfare recipients, experience stigma (Duncan & Edwards, 1997;
McCormack, 2004; Reutter etal., 2009). Their housing is more likely
to be smaller, and housing costs put a larger burden on their financial
budget (Bianchi, 1994; Rowlingson & McKay, 2002). Related to
several of the aforementioned disadvantages, single parents experience
relatively poor health (Benzeval, 1998; Burström etal., 2010) and
mental wellbeing (Harkness, 2016). On average, children of single
parents experience worse emotional wellbeing and disadvantaged
cognitive development (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Chapple, 2013;
DiPrete & Eirich, 2006) and perform less well in school (deLange
etal., 2014; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994).
7
The triple bind of single-parent families
It is important to point out that the evidence summarised so far
does not address explanations of lower levels of wellbeing associated
with single parenthood, nor the complex interplay between various
aspects of socioeconomic wellbeing. For instance, it does not clarify
whether various aspects of children’s wellbeing are associated with
single parenthood as a family form as such, or by the poverty and
material deprivation prevalent among single-parent families (Thomson
& McLanahan, 2012). Also, many of these associations between single
parenthood and risks of lower levels of wellbeing for single parents
and their families have been established in studies focusing on single
countries, not addressing contextual conditions and therefore forgoing
the possible role labour markets and social policies can play. Figures 1.2
to 1.3 do show marked dierences in the wellbeing of single parents
across countries, suggesting that important lessons can be learned from
how dierences in resources, employment and policies aect their
wellbeing. We turn to these issues in the next section.
The triple bind of single-parent families
Single-parent families face challenges that are constantly evolving:
changes in single parenthood, changes in the labour markets in which
they work and changes in the social policies that aim to address their
needs. We refer to the challenges that arise from the combination of
these developments as the triple bind of single-parent families:
single parents and their families are disproportionally caught in
the interplay between inadequacies in resources, employment and
policies.
Inadequate resources
Single parents and their families lack the additional resources of a
partner who lives in the household. The lack of a potential second
earner makes it more dicult for single-parent households to have
adequate earnings, but also makes the single-parent household more
vulnerable to the consequences of (temporary) unemployment.
Without a second caregiver in the household to fall back on, even
if it is in the form of tag-team parenting, work–family conflict can
be more pressing for single-parent families. In short, the absence
of a partner living in the household limits care, income, time and
flexibility. However, with single parenthood being more common in
recent decades in many countries (as was shown in Figure1.1), so have
dierent forms of co-parenting. Increasingly, the ‘other partner’ (in the
The triple bind of single-parent families
8
vast majority of the cases the father) remains actively involved in the
lives of their children, which represents an alternative way in which
parental resources are provided. Research on how co-parenting aects
single parents and their children is in its early stages, and results may
vary across countries. However, early findings show promising results.
In Sweden, children living in shared residence (that is, living for about
equal time in both parents’ homes) experience fewer psychosomatic
problems and better wellbeing compared to children living with only
a single parent (Bergström etal., 2013; 2015).
These findings are in line with evidence suggesting that lower
levels of wellbeing among single parents and their children are not
inherently associated with family composition, but rather and to
an important extent with single parents’ disadvantaged economic
position (Lang & Zagorsky, 2001; Treanor, 2016). In the US, the
literature has focused on the resources of single parents as diverging
destinies: single parenthood has become increasingly common among
those with fewer socioeconomic resources, such as the lower educated
(McLanahan, 2004). Particularly in the US, this trend intersects with
institutionalised racism, as children of color are more likely to be poor
(Bratter & Damaske, 2013). McLanahan (2004) refers to single parents’
lack of parental resources as them having lower levels of education and
being younger and without a second caregiver. These resources, she
argued, can often be inadequate to ensure their children’s wellbeing.
In addition to being an indicator of parental resources, education is
a resource for employment and for better job qualities and earnings
for the employed.
The diverging destinies thesis was demonstrated by longitudinal
evidence for the US. However, the extent to which increasing
socioeconomic divergence in single parenthood is universally observed
across countries remains to be seen. For instance, Härkönen and
Dronkers (2006) found that the educational gradient in divorce varied
substantially across countries. Even though divorce is by no means the
only pathway into single parenthood, these results suggest that the
educational resources of single parents are more limited in the US than
in some other countries. Other comparative studies have challenged
diverging destinies and demonstrate that single parents’ resources alone
are not enough to understand changes in their wellbeing and that of
their children. For instance, increases in educational disadvantage of
single parents were found to have contributed only marginally to their
disadvantage in the labour market and the educational disadvantage of
their children (Bernardi & Boertien, 2017; Härkönen etal., 2016a).
These examples point towards the importance of examining the
9
The triple bind of single-parent families
interplay between resources and the context provided by the labour
market and social policy.
Inadequate employment
Employment is positively associated with wellbeing in ways that extend
far beyond the earned income – particularly when supported to be
possible, feasible and paying well (Millar & Rowlingson, 2001). It is
associated with many beneficial outcomes, including reduced risks of
poverty and material deprivation; investments in future employability;
access to insurance-based social security and pensions; self-realisation;
self-ecacy, social networks and health. Employment can be a resource,
but it is given more weight as one of the three central challenges of the
‘triple bind’. Employment involves at least two actors – the employee
and the employer – and often more when considering labour market
institutions, regulations and unions.
As shown in Figure1.2, employment rates among single parents
tend to be fairly high across countries. Yet, in addition to their
limited resources, there are at least two important reasons to believe
that employment is less adequate for single parents than for other
workers: gendered inequality and increasingly precarious employment
conditions.
Gendered inequality in the labour market is very consequential
for single parents. The gender wage gap the result of factors that
include occupational segregation, dierences in human capital and
working conditions, motherhood penalties, fatherhood premiums and
discrimination – may have diminished somewhat but still puts women,
particularly mothers, at a disadvantage in terms of earning adequate
earnings (Duncan & Edwards, 1997; Goldin, 2014; Gornick, 2004;
Halldén etal., 2016; Härkönen etal., 2016b). Part-time employment
is still more common among women, for which they face a wage
penalty in most countries (Bardasi & Gornick, 2008). Flexible working
schedules, a potential strategy for dealing with work–family conflict,
were found to benefit the wages of fathers over those of mothers (Lott
& Chung, 2016). Even though this literature on the gender wage
gap often does not explicitly dierentiate between single parents and
other family types, much of these inequalities resonate among women
after they separate, and thus among single parents. Prior employment
experience is an important resource for future employability. This, too,
demonstrates how single parenthood is strongly gendered. Women not
only make up the majority of single parents but are also substantially
more likely to exit the labour market in association with motherhood
The triple bind of single-parent families
10
(Nieuwenhuis etal., 2012) than men are when they become fathers.
This gendered inequality in employment resonates in the work
experience women and men have after separation, and thus in the
prior work experience single parents can bring to the labour market.
Labour markets have become more unequal and precarious
(Kalleberg, 2009). This is partly driven by globalisation; skill-biased
technological change; changes in pay norms; wages of the lower skilled
under pressure, the rise of nonstandard work and high unemployment
(Atkinson, 2015; Autor, 2014). Although research on the impact of
the recent recession on work–life balance shows mixed results among
those who are working (Lewis etal., 2017), there is little doubt that
during this time economic inequality was on the rise in relation to
employment and unemployment (OECD, 2015). Such inequalities
result in welfare states struggling to keep up, underscoring the
importance of not only redistribution but also ‘measures to render
less unequal the incomes people receive before government taxes and
transfers’ (Atkinson, 2015, p.113). Not surprisingly, despite rising
employment, poverty rates have not gone down (Cantillon, 2011;
Cantillon & Vandenbroucke, 2014; Marx etal., 2012; Nieuwenhuis
etal., 2016). The rise of in-work poverty, to varying degrees across
countries, shows that earnings from employment are more commonly
inadequate in ensuring household incomes exceed the poverty
threshold (Lohmann & Marx, 2018; Marx & Nolan, 2012). Single
parents face in-work poverty more often than coupled parents, as dual
earnership seems to be an increasingly necessary condition to secure
economic wellbeing (Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2018).
In-work poverty is driven not only by low wages but also by
employment conditions. Fixed-term contracts, particularly common
among the young and low-skilled, are least likely to be renewed in
times of economic downturn (Crettaz, 2013). Zero-hour contracts, low
work intensity and temporary work all contr ibute to the precariousness
of employment and the challenge to earn an adequate annual wage.
Nonstandard working hours – including early, late and night shifts –
are increasingly common in the ‘24/7 economy’ (Presser etal., 2008).
Nonstandard working hours combined with childcare responsibilities
have been especially challenging for single parents (Moilanen etal.,
2016). Practices such as just-in-time scheduling (Boushey, 2016) only
exacerbate such challenges.
Precarious working conditions pertain not only to inadequate
earnings from employment and higher poverty risks but also to
other important aspects of wellbeing, such as perceived job quality
(Esser & Olsen, 2012) and work–family conflict (Ollier-Malaterre
11
The triple bind of single-parent families
& Foucreault, 2016). Work–family conflict reduced the subjective
wellbeing of working mothers (Lewis etal., 2017; Matysiak etal.,
2016; Roeters etal., 2016).
Inadequate policy
A variety of social policies have been documented to benefit the
wellbeing of single parents, and often adequately so. Many studies
have examined the impact of redistributive social policies on reducing
the economic insecurity of single-parent families (Gornick & Jäntti,
2012; Rainwater & Smeeding, 2004). Child benefits were found to
be eective in reducing single-parent poverty (Bradshaw & Finch,
2002; Maldonado & Nieuwenhuis, 2015), particularly when their
design is targeted towards single parents (VanLancker etal., 2014).
Childcare and housing costs have a sizeable impact on single parents’
disposable household budget, particularly when they are on social
assistance (Kilkey & Bradshaw, 1999); policies can help compensate
some of these costs. Poverty reduction can also be achieved by private
transfers, such as alimonies, and by policies regulating and ensuring
child support payments (Meyer etal., 2011; Skinner etal., 2007).
Financial transfers are by no means the only way to support single
parents. A policy reform to expand public childcare subsidies in the US
increased the employment of single mothers (Bainbridge etal., 2003;
Blau & Robins, 1988). Single mothers receiving childcare subsidies were
also more satisfied with the quality of the care their children received
(Berger & Black, 1992). By facilitating employment, childcare reduces
single-parent poverty (Misra etal., 2007). Parental leave may facilitate
the employment of both current single parents of young children and of
mothers prior to becoming a single parent, by helping them to maintain
gainful employment later in life. Indeed, by facilitating single parents’
employment, parental leave – if it is paid – was found to help reduce
the poverty risks of single parents (Maldonado & Nieuwenhuis, 2015).
Still, even after accounting for the earnings from employment, family
benefits were found to further reduce poverty risks of single parents –
including among the employed (Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2015).
Countries with extensive work–family policies and welfare policies
have better education outcomes for children living in single-parent
families (Hampden-Thompson & Pong, 2005). Both work–family
policies (such as parental leave) and financial support policies (such
as family allowances and tax benefits to single parents) were found to
reduce the performance gap in science and maths between children of
single parents and coupled parents (Pong etal., 2003).
The triple bind of single-parent families
12
Yet, despite these many examples of how social policy adequately
benefits the wellbeing of single parents and their children, current and
ongoing developments in social policy need to be critically addressed.
Facing budget constraints, welfare states develop new strategies to
maintain performance at adequate levels, while responding to the
labour market and so-called ‘new social risks’, which include (among
other risks) the rise of single parenthood (Bonoli, 2013; Cantillon
& Vandenbroucke, 2014). This prompted the adoption of ‘active’
social policies that seek to achieve welfare provision by facilitating
employment. This includes active labour market programmes, including
job-search assistance, public employment and training programmes
(Card etal., 2010; Kluve, 2010). The turn towards activation was also
observed in policies tailored specifically to single parents (Carcillo &
Grubb, 2006; Knijn etal., 2008). Closely related is the notion of social
investment. Diagnosing unemployment as a mismatch between skills
and jobs, the social investment perspective emphasises the importance
of policies that promote education and training, facilitate employment
and invest in children’s early education and wellbeing. It seeks to
prepare individuals for economic independence, rather than to repair
their situation of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion (Morel
etal., 2012). This has materialised in an emphasis on policies providing
in-kind services that seek to stimulate employment to reduce poverty,
so that poverty reduction would become less reliant on policies that
transfer income to families in need. Yet, in correspondence with the
increasing emphasis on activation, social assistance levels declined in
most countries in the 1990s, with more diverse trends in the 2000s
(Cantillon etal., 2016). Social assistance levels were found to be
inadequate to reach commonly accepted poverty thresholds in most
European countries (Nelson, 2013).
It remains to be seen to what extent the social investment perspective
on social policy making, with the emphasis on stimulating employment
rather than providing cash transfers, will result in policy solutions that
are adequate for single parents. On the one hand, the emphasis on
facilitating employment – through either education and training skills,
or policies to improve job searching and reduce work–family barriers
may be especially beneficial to single parents, with their limited
resources. Indeed, many of the policies that are promoted by the ‘new
spending’ in the social investment perspective, including childcare,
eectively reduce poverty for single parents (Vaalavuo, 2013).
Yet, on the other hand, social investment strategies may further
intensify persistent and pre-existing inequalities associated with single
parenthood (Pintelon etal., 2013). As social investment strategies focus
13
The triple bind of single-parent families
on employment, and single-parent employment is often inadequate,
improving single parents’ wellbeing based on such strategies may not
be an easy task. For instance, even though active labour market policies
were found to be associated with higher employment among single
parents in Germany, France, Sweden and the UK, their poverty rates
were not reduced (Jaehrling etal., 2014). The ‘trilemma of activation’
holds that it is impossible to simultaneously reduce the need for cash
transfer policies by stimulating employment, avert overly intrusive
policy administration and monitoring, and ensure that the unemployed
are not poor (Cantillon, 2011; Cantillon & Vandenbroucke, 2014;
Vandenbroucke & Vleminckx, 2011). Benefits of activation were
found to be unequal, benefiting those with more resources (Ghysels
& VanLancker, 2011), and transfers were found to be benefit the
poor more than in-kind services (Verbist & Matsaganis, 2014). Such
so-called Matthew eects of social policy, in which policy eorts
disproportionally benefit the relatively well o and thus do not reach
those with the least resources (Merton, 1936), are pervasive in social
policy initiatives that fail to account for pre-existing inequalities
(Pintelon etal., 2013).
Social policies can be considered inadequate related to various design
characteristics that include generosity, means testing, the distinction
between contributory and noncontributory benefits, and conditions
of eligibility and conditionality (Roll, 1992). This can be in isolation
of other factors; for instance, when public daycare is unavailable or
its quality is not guaranteed, or when benefit levels are inadequate
to lift families out of poverty (Nelson, 2013). Programmes can be
so complicated that take-up is reduced (Kleven & Kopczuk, 2011;
VanOorschot, 1991). The scarce available estimates of take-up rates
in OECD countries show that as few as 40%–80% of those entitled
to social assistance and housing programmes, and 60–80% of those
entitled to unemployment compensation, actually receive those
benefits (Hernanz etal., 2004). Take-up of social assistance benefits
has been on the decline (Riphahn, 2001). Policies are shaped by the
assumptions held by policy makers (Daly, 2011; Lewis, 1992) and
street-level bureaucrats implementing the policies (Evans, 2016; Lipsky,
2010). Inadequacy of policies can arise when these assumptions no
longer correspond to the reality of resources and employment. For
instance, a review of child support policies across countries showed
how the design of these policies struggled to keep up with increasing
family complexity (Meyer etal., 2011). This means that these policies
were rendered inadequate to ensure children’s standard of living in
an increasing number of families. Social policies are often based
The triple bind of single-parent families
14
on gendered assumptions regarding the division of labour within
the household (Millar & Rowlingson, 2001) as is evident in, for
instance, the male breadwinner model (Korpi, 2000; Lewis, 1992).
The social investment paradigm was described as hiding, or even
taking for granted, ‘gender inequalities in both the household and
the labour market’ (Saraceno, 2011, p.257), underrepresenting the
value of care and the costs of children. This could disadvantage those
families in which the number of children is high relative to the number
of earners, as in single-parent households. While promoting the dual-
earner model, it falls short on supporting a dual-carer model. In terms
of accumulation of work experience, this resonates with the (gendered)
disadvantages women have in the labour market.
Binding it together
Resources, employment and policy are all consequential for single-
parent wellbeing, in isolation and (particularly) in relation to each
other. We refer to these relationships as the triple bind of single-parent
families. A double bind is often described as ‘a situation in which
a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice
between two undesirable courses of action’ (Oxford Dictionary of
English, 2010). Take, for instance, the work–family conflict in which
employers and family responsibilities can pose irreconcilable demands
on single parents. This is not to say that coupled-parent families do
not face any challenges in combining work and family responsibilities,
but that single parents have even fewer degrees of freedom to negotiate
such work–family conflict. A low level of education can be regarded
as irreconcilable – or, more broadly defined, incompatible – with the
demands apparent in a given employment regime. Policy, one of the
three parts of the triple bind, can also implicitly or explicitly express
demands or expectations. Welfare states expressing the demand to
avoid poverty through gainful employment, facilitating this through
employment services rather than through redistribution, assume that
workers’ resources and labour market conditions are both adequate
to secure economic wellbeing. If such assumptions are not met,
single parents are particularly likely to find themselves in the midst
of a triple bind of not having the adequate resources required to find
employment that is adequate to provide economic wellbeing, while
benefit levels are inadequate as well, because those were reduced based
on the assumption that facilitating employment would be sucient
to reduce poverty. As a second example, a public childcare policy that
seeks to reduce work–family conflict can still be inadequate to single
15
The triple bind of single-parent families
parents, if the price is too high compared to their resource levels, or
if the opening hours or daycare centres are incompatible with the
nonstandard or long working hours an employer might demand from
a single parent (Moilanen etal., 2016; Saraceno, 2011).
The combined focus on the resources of single-parent families, their
employment and social policy is not uncommon in analyses of social
policy. Indeed, many welfare state regimes have been based on the
‘triangle of states, markets and families’ (Béland & Mahon, 2016, p.37).
Yet, the concept of the triple bind is incompatible with approaches
based on welfare regime typologies for several reasons. The often-
used distinction between social democratic, conservative and liberal
welfare states (Esping-Andersen, 1990) was argued to be based on a
‘conglomerate’ of welfare state generosity, programme characteristics
and outcomes, rendering typologies inadequate for causal analyses
(Korpi, 2000, p.141). Related to this, typologies are unable to
examine contradictions or synergies between specific policies. Another
reason is that typologies are insensitive to analysing change, whereas
the triple bind explicitly addresses changes in single parents’ resources,
employment conditions and social policy entitlements. Finally, it
remains an empirical question whether welfare regime types accurately
represent the position of single parents. For instance, working single
parents in the UK had lower poverty and access to generous family
benefits, which contradicts the liberal welfare state associated with
limited state intervention (Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2018).
‘Inadequate’ here refers to the degree to which the combination
of single parents’ resources, employment and policies facilitates their
positive socioeconomic wellbeing. These inadequacies are not exclusive
to single parents; yet, the triple bind represents a combination of factors
that is widespread among single-parent families – and increasingly so.
When these three factors add up, they limit single parents’ agency
their capability to ‘be and do’ (Hobson, 2011; Sen, 1992).
Outline of this book
This book brings together expert scholars on single parents, labour
market research and social policy to study various aspects of the triple
bind of single-parent families. The aim is to contribute to research on
single parents’ socioeconomic wellbeing on five accounts. First, the
triple bind explicitly acknowledges that single parents form a very
diverse group. Part of this diversity is captured by a wide range of
resources and employment conditions, which interact with how they
are supported by social policy. In that, second, the concept of the
The triple bind of single-parent families
16
triple bind of single-parent families is inherently contextual. Rather
than merely looking at single parents’ resources, the context in which
these resources shape their wellbeing is accounted for explicitly. As
such, many of the analyses in this book are comparative. Third, the
analyses explicitly bring into focus the role of employment in shaping
single parents’ wellbeing. Fourth, the policy analyses focus on in-kind
services and institutions that aect the employment of single parents,
without losing focus of policies that are based on redistribution.
Finally, the analyses look beyond poverty as an indicator of wellbeing,
and instead examine the socioeconomic wellbeing of single parents
and their families based on a wide range of indicators. Importantly,
this allows for examining how the economic inequality associated with
single parenthood aects other aspects of their wellbeing and that of
their families.
Part 1: Adequate resources
Part1 takes a closer look at single parents’ resources, the first two
chapters focusing on education, poverty and wealth in single-parent
households and the latter four on how these resources aect the
wellbeing of their children. Härkönen (Chapter Two) examines the
link between the educational disadvantage of single mothers and their
poverty risks across countries, eectively revisiting the ‘diverging
destinies’ thesis in international comparative perspective. The results
indicate that the educational disadvantage of single mothers is not the
‘smoking gun’ explaining their increased poverty risks (compared to
coupled-parent families); rather, this explanation is to be found in
countries’ inequality in poverty risks between all lower and all higher
educated. Taking a dierent look at economic resources, Sierminska
(Chapter Three) is among the first to study the wealth of single parents.
She finds substantial wealth gaps between single-parent and coupled-
parent families. Yet, she discusses, while single parents have a greater
need for (at least some) wealth accumulation to cover income shocks,
their capabilities for doing so are often impaired by housing regimes
and means-tested social policies.
The next chapters demonstrate the importance of adequate resources
for various aspects of the wellbeing of children growing up with a single
parent. Treanor (Chapter Four) acknowledges that single parenthood is
often a transitionary phase, and uses a dynamic life-course perspective
to study the wellbeing of children of single mothers. She finds that
the lower wellbeing of such children is determined by the volatility
in work intensity, duration of income poverty and increasing levels of
17
The triple bind of single-parent families
material deprivation (as mothers are single for a longer period of time),
rather than by single parenthood or changing family formation as
such. Harkness and Salgado (Chapter Five) examine the disadvantage
of children in single-parent families with respect to their cognitive and
emotional development, and how the impact of separation varies across
children’s life course. As single parenthood became more common
in the UK, they report, this disadvantage grew, in large part related
to their parents’ increasingly disadvantaged socioeconomic resources.
Examining educational performance, deLange and Dronkers (Chapter
Six) present cross-national evidence that children growing up with a
single parent perform less well in school, particularly when attending a
school with many other children growing up with a single parent. This
disadvantage could be explained by the socioeconomic resources of
their parents and schools. Fransson, Låftman, Östberg and Bergström
(Chapter Seven) further examine various dimensions of the wellbeing
of children growing up in single-parent families in Sweden. They find
that children whose parents decide on shared residence as a form of
parental resource experience wellbeing that is nearly on par with that
of children growing up with coupled parents.
Part 2: Adequate employment
Part2 of the book examines how policies and institutions facilitate
employment that is adequate for single parents to achieve wellbeing.
Zagel and Hübgen (Chapter Eight) start o by developing a framework
to analyse policy outcomes for single parents from a life-course
perspective. This life-course perspective is shown to be consequential
for various conditions of eligibility of social policy, and important
to show how single parents’ resources develop at dierent points in
their life course. Horemans and Marx (Chapter Nine) zoom in on
determinants of labour market participation of single parents, and
which policies facilitate them to have jobs that provide adequate
earnings to avoid poverty. The results suggest that merely looking at
how financial transfers aect the income situation of single parents
misses the point that their position in the income distribution prior
to redistribution is also determined by income transfers and the work
(dis)incentives they may bring.
Byun (Chapter Ten) shows that countries with low poverty rates for
single parents are not necessarily the same countries with a large share
of single-parent families in the middle class. Single parents were more
likely to have a middle-class income in countries with paid parental
leave and union coverage. Looking at how using paid parental leave
The triple bind of single-parent families
18
schemes and formal childcare services aects later-in-life employment
of single mothers, VanLancker (Chapter Eleven) compares European
countries to test whether cultural or institutional explanations are able
to account for cross-country dierences in the use and take-up of these
policies. He concludes that work–family reconciliation policies help
sustain employment among single mothers, but for these expectations
to materialise, single mothers need to be able to actually use these
policies. Duvander and Korsell (Chapter Twelve) complement this
with a case study on Sweden, which targets a comparatively large share
of parental leave towards fathers. They examine the extent to which
mothers and fathers (continue to) share their parental leave after they
separate, showing how the Swedish parental leave policy stimulates
and facilitates fathers to be involved in the care of their children after
separation.
Many of the chapters so far have shown the importance of adequate
employment in securing single parents’ economic wellbeing. Esser
and Olsen (Chapter Thirteen) focus on how institutional contexts
facilitate employed single parents to obtain the employment security
and work–family balance that match their preferences. Matching tends
to be more extensive in countries with longer unemployment benefits,
stronger unions, more extensive active labour market programmes and
family policies promoting more equal sharing of paid and unpaid work.
However, institutions matter selectively for dierent parental groups,
where single parents tend to be at a disadvantage. Nieuwenhuis, Tøge
and Palme (Chapter Fourteen) describe the health penalty of single
parents across Europe, and examine under which policy conditions
employment is associated with better health for single parents. They
report that although active labour market policies and public childcare
benefit the health of employed single parents, redistributive policies
are still required to protect the health of those who are not employed.
Such redistributive policies are the focus of Part3.
Part 3: Adequate redistributive policies
Most policies analysed so far improve the wellbeing of single parents
by facilitating their employment and improving the adequacy of that
employment. Part3 examines redistributive policies. Bradshaw, Keung
and Chzhen (Chapter Fifteen) examine the role family cash benefits
play in reducing poverty among single parents with dierent levels of
earnings, and compare this impact to other financial transfers, such as
housing benefits. The results demonstrate the continued importance
of financial support policies for single-parent families, with family
19
The triple bind of single-parent families
benefits being particularly crucial in reducing poverty among children
living in single-parent families. Morissens (Chapter Sixteen) examines
the policy design of child benefits and revisits the debate on whether
these policies are more eective when their design is universal or
targeted to single parents. Despite the finding of a stratification eect
of universal family benefits being slightly better in bringing coupled-
parent families out of poverty compared to single-parent families, she
concludes that universal family benefits have an important impact on
the alleviation of poverty for single-parent families. Eydal (Chapter
Seventeen) applies the triple bind to examine the extent to which the
Icelandic welfare system has supported single parents by providing
adequate resources and employment in order to create possibilities for
both parents to earn and care. This case study shows that while the
Icelandic policies do provide important support to single parents, they
do not adequately ensure that single parents have the same possibilities
as coupled parents to balance work and family and ensure their families’
economic wellbeing.
In the final empirical chapter, Cantillon, Collado and VanMechelen
(Chapter Eighteen) report that minimum income protection schemes
for single parents in developed welfare states fall short of the poverty
threshold, and that this inadequacy is of a structural nature. Gross wages
for working single parents fell increasingly short of countries’ poverty
thresholds; as a result, it seems impossible to successfully combine
adequate minimum income packages for working and nonworking
single parents on the one hand and reasonable incentives to work on
the other, without increasing welfare state eorts.
Part 4: Reflections and conclusion
In the final part of the book, Calder (Chapter Nineteen) explores
how single parents fit into current debates about social justice, the
family and children. Separating disadvantage from injustice, he argues
that single-parent families are disproportionately likely to be on the
receiving end of injustices that tend to be symptomatic of wider
forms of inequality particularly in income and wealth. Taking a
critical perspective, he concludes that as well as all the costs of single
parenthood we should accommodate the positives and avoid the
assumption of a deficit model: a childhood spent in a single-parent
family is as rich and precious as any other.
Gornick (Chapter Twenty) discusses how the gendered nature of
single parenthood is baked into the triple-bind framework and reflects
on four things that matter for single parents: definitions that disaggregate
The triple bind of single-parent families
20
single parents, income (but also going beyond income), single parenting
for children (although causal mechanisms remain poorly understood)
and cash transfers (but also other policy tools).
The book ends with Maldonado and Nieuwenhuis (Chapter Twenty-
one) pointing out directions for future research and formulating five
key lessons from the book to improve the wellbeing of single parents
and their families: 1)inequality matters for diverse aspects of single
parents’ wellbeing; 2)policies that benefit all families matter just as
well for single-parent families; 3)gender, involved fathers and support
for shared parenting matter; 4)investments in employment matter to
support inclusive societies; yet 5)reasons for concern remain, and
they matter.
Notes
1 Nieuwenhuis was supported by the Swedish Research Council for Health,
Working Life and Welfare (Forte), grant #2015-00921. Maldonado was
supported by Fonds National Recherche de la Luxembourg, AFR PhD
grant #4039120.
2 Figures 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 are based on the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS)
Database. Single-parent households were identified using the HHTYPE
variable, defining single parents as households in which one parent lives
with their dependent child (at least one child under the age of 18). Data
were restricted to households in which the household head was aged
between 20 and 55. We used the LIS equivalence scale, equal to the
square root of the household size (using this scale allowed for greater time
coverage than the modified OECD scale due to data availability).
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... They find it not only difficult to combine the roles of sole breadwinner and sole care provider, but they are also more likely to experience disadvantages in the labor market. Nieuwenhuis and Maldonado (2018b) argue that single parents are caught in a triple bind of inadequate resources, inadequate employment and inadequate policies. ...
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This paper takes stock of income support provisions for families with children in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We look at the impact of regulatory instruments such as statutory minimum wages and also at the role of more direct income supports like child benefits and refundable tax credits. We also consider the impact of design. What is the relative role of universal as opposed to more targeted provisions, be it by family type or (pre-tax) income level? In short, what can we learn from the best-performing countries when it comes to ensuring that families with children have adequate minimum resources? We demonstrate that there is very substantial variation in the levels of income support provided to working and non-working families across Europe and the US. The most generous countries support incomes through layers of policies of which significant minimum wages and both universal and targeted child benefits (or tax credits) are key layers. The main lesson here is that, if the political will is there, workable policy mixes are available to make sure that parents have adequate minimum income resources to provide their children an upbringing free from poverty. (Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality Working Paper)
... Single parents have been repeatedly studied as a socially disadvantaged group (Gornick, 2018;Nieuwenhuis and Maldonado, 2018;Struffolino and Bernardi, 2017), but they are rarely the focus of transport poverty research. An exception is McQuoid and Dijst (2012), who demonstrated that the spatiotemporal day-to-day arrangements of single mothers depend to a large extent on the geographic location of social services. ...
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This article explores the spatial mobility of disadvantaged populations in order to enhance our understanding of transport poverty. It is based on participatory GPS tracking data collected in peripheral rural regions in Czechia and Germany. The data provide information on the two-week mobility of 61 socially disadvantaged study participants belonging to the following groups: (a) the lone elderly, (b) the labor market disadvantaged, and (c) single parents. The quantitative analysis utilizes group comparisons of activity space metrics. The results show that the mobility of disadvantaged people varied little between countries and regions, which indicates that individual social disadvantage mattered more than regional spatial disadvantage. Daily mobility depended on individual mobility strategies, and on people's embeddedness in social networks. The mobility patterns of socially disadvantaged groups differed, and showed considerable within-group variability. Our analysis finds that the effects of car access depended on the respondents' levels of social disadvantage; and that a car was not a merely a transport variable, but a socially conditioned variable. Understanding how automobility in rural peripheries is mediated by social ties, and how it can both enable and constrain chances for social participation, is essential for developing measures aimed at reducing transport poverty.
... Research has also shown that a compromised ability to draw on social networks for material and emotional assistance, is linked with lower employment rates, earnings, and increased reliance on welfare (Harknett, 2006). Indeed, not only are poverty risks substantially higher for single-parent compared to coupled-parent families (Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2018), but sole mothers have less stable employment and poorer paying jobs, than those in two-parent households (Wu & Eamon, 2011). ...
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Sole employed mothers and their families face numerous challenges. Yet, the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID‐19 pandemic may be adding additional risk to the already precarious day‐to‐day reality of this population. Thus, we examine the implications of this crisis for the mental health and job‐related well‐being of both sole and partnered working mothers. Participants were 206 mothers who continued to work during the pandemic. A moderated mediation model was analyzed. Work‐family conflict (WFC) during the pandemic differentially related to mothers’ parenting stress, based on romantic partnership status; when mothers were sole parents, the relationship between WFC and parenting stress was exacerbated. Moreover, this stress mediated the relationship between WFC and both poor mental health and decreased work engagement for sole employed mothers. Findings broaden our understanding of the implications of the COVID‐19 pandemic for sole and partnered employed mothers, and how this crisis may be increasing disparities between working sole‐parent and dual‐partner families.
... Economic independence of women, better control methods on fertility, developments on gender equality, and changes on family and gender norms have led to the emergence of a wide variety of single-parent family forms (Ambert, 2006;Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2018). Single-parent family structures have various causes. ...
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This study aimed to explore the opinions of the preservice teachers about the children’s picture books related to single-parent families. A total of 61 preservice teachers majoring in English Language Arts participated, and the data were collected with semi-structured interviews. The data of the research were analyzed using a content analysis method. The trustworthiness of the present study was increased by using peer debriefing and member checking methods. The research findings showed that the preservice teachers who participated in the study liked the children’s picture books, but were not sure whether they were appropriate to read these books to students. In addition, the participants criticized the books in terms of cultural and peritextual features, content and diverse family structures. Most of the participants did not find the books appropriate to the Turkish cultural context and noted that they would not read the books in their future classrooms. More research related to this topic needs to be conducted in order to shed light on the underlying reasons of the results obtained from the present study.
... Even the ones that include all families and control for family structure (Mistry et al., 2008), do not investigate its role as a potential moderator. However, lone parent families tend to be at a higher risk of poverty (Chzhen & Bradshaw, 2012;Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2018) and stress (Cairney et al., 2003;Cooper et al., 2009). Therefore, our third hypothesis (H3) is that the associations between economic pressure and parent psychological distress will be stronger in lone parent families. ...
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Objective The study applies an adapted Family Stress Model (FSM) to analyze the relationship between child material deprivation and intra-family conflict about money using a nationally representative survey of children in England in 2018. Background The standard FSM holds that poverty is experienced by parents who, in turn, impact children. Drawing on new social studies of childhood, the authors posit that the model does not recognize children as social actors—with direct experiences of poverty—nor as social agents who co-construct parent–child relationships in a context of poverty. Method The authors use secondary survey data from Fair Shares and Families, which investigated children's and parents' experiences of, and involvement in, the sharing of family resources. The authors estimate linear structural equation models to test an adapted FSM, which includes separate pathways (for parents and children) from economic hardship to intra-family conflict. Results Both parent- and child-reported economic pressure and psychological distress have significant direct and indirect associations with intra-family conflict. The adapted model works the same way in lower and higher income households, as well as in lone parent and couple-headed families. Conclusion Children's experiences as social actors and influence as social agents are important in shaping parent–child relationships. This suggests that the standard FSM is limited in its insights about how economic hardship affects children and families and its policy applications for interventions to mitigate the impacts of child poverty. Research applying the FSM should seek to conceptualize children as active “child-beings,” rather than as passive “adult-becomings.”
... Even when single parents have standard work schedules, routine family management tasks, such as running errands, may crowd out family leisure time. Second, single parents own their home less often (Nieuwenhuis & Maldonado, 2018), and may have more limited physical space for indoor and outdoor home-based leisure. Third, single parents households, particularly those headed by single mothers, are more concentrated in low-income neighborhoods (South & Crowder, 1998), which often results in decreased likelihood of living within a close distance to a park, green space, or recreation facilities (Gordon-Larsen et al., 2006;Wen et al., 2013). ...
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In this book addressing how best to reduce contemporary large-scale income inequality, Prof. Atkinson considers economic inequality from a new perspective, drawing on extensive historical data covering more than a century of evolution in modern societies. In the first of the book's three parts, the author explains his research motivation and poses the following questions. What does inequality mean? To what extent is it expanding today? Has history ever witnessed periods of declining inequality? How can economic theory explain inequality? The second part of the book is devoted to specific political and economic policies designed to reduce inequality. In the third part, the author assesses the extent to which the policies he proposes can be considered realistic, discussing the pros and cons of enacting and implementing them. The Journal of Economic Sociology publishes the first chapter "Setting the Scene," which puts readers in the picture by discussing the notion of inequality and its extent. Demonstrating the term's multiplicity of meanings, Atkinson argues that all questions concerning its main dimensions should be answered before searching for its foundations.
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