Steady-State Inequality? Single Motherhood and Income

Matthew McKeever, Haverford College
Nicholas Wolfinger , University of Utah

A curious and unhappy feature of family demography is the stubborn persistence of poverty in mother-headed families. Between 1980 and 2017, the income gap between single-mother families and married-mother families barely changed. We explore the income dynamics of single motherhood using data from the NLSY79, focusing on different types of single-mother households. While differences remain using standard statistical models, fixed-effect models show that the unmeasured differences between divorced- and never-married mother-headed families are crucial for understanding income disparities. Controlling for these differences suggests that variation in income by family structure has more to do with the number of earners in a household than the characteristics of those workers.

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 Presented in Session 4. Marriage, Family, Households, & Unions