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The Iona Blog

Single motherhood “an economic catastrophe”

Author: David Quinn
Date: 8th June 2012

Kay Hymowitz is one of America’s most acute social observers. In an article in The Los Angeles Times last week she draws attention to the link between single motherhood and poverty. The figures are both devastating and tragic.

She writes: “Poverty remains relatively rare among married couples with children; the U.S. census puts only 8.8% of them in that category, up from 6.7% since the start of the Great Recession. But more than 40% of single-mother families are poor, up from 37% before the downturn. In the bottom quintile of earnings, most households are single people, many of them elderly. But of the two-fifths of bottom-quintile households that are families, 83% are headed by single mothers.”

A great deal of this applies to Ireland also. Figures show that lone parent families are far more likely to be poor than married families.

But is this because these single mothers were poor anyway, even before they became mothers? This is called the ‘selection effect’ meaning in this case that poorer women are more likely to ‘select’ themselves into single motherhood than better off women.

Certainly this is part of the explanation, but Hymowitz quotes a study that compares poor women who married with poor women who didn’t. The study found that marriage still considerably reduces the chances of living in poverty.

Hymowitz is wrong on one point however. She seems to think that single motherhood is an American specialty, meaning the mother is actually living without a partner as distinct from being unmarried but living with a partner as is common in countries like Sweden.

But other countries like Britain and New Zealand, and indeed this one, also have a high percentage of mothers who are not just unmarried but also live without a partner.

In any case, her article can be read in full here.

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