The accumulation of economic disadvantage: The Influence of Childbirth and Divorce on the Income and Poverty Risk of Single Mothers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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This study examines how motherhood earnings penalties in combination with the cost of partner absence affect single mothers' economic well-being. Using longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics for 1990–2015 and fixed-effects models with individual-specific slopes reveals that when needs are controlled for, the transition to parenthood is as strongly linked to reduced family income as partner absence is. I consider different routes to single motherhood and predict that income penalties will differ for women entering single motherhood at a first child's birth and for women who were married at first childbirth but later separated. I show that previously married mothers face larger income penalties than those who were single at first childbirth because they see larger declines in their earnings following childbirth. The results illustrate how marriage and parenthood, alongside partner absence, shape the economic prospects of single-mother families. These findings highlight the importance of reducing gender inequalities in the labor market to improve single mothers' economic well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1377-1402
Number of pages26
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments I gratefully acknowledge funding from the Economic and Social Resource Council in the United Kingdom through the Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (grant ES/S012486/1) and from the EQUALLIVES project, which is financially supported by the NORFACE Joint Research Programme on Dynamics of Inequality Across the Life-course, which is cofunded by the European Commission through Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement No. 724363.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice


  • Motherhood pay penalties
  • Separation
  • Single mothers
  • Income
  • Life course analysis


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