Diverging trends in single-mother poverty across Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom: toward a comprehensive explanatory framework

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

December 6, 2021


To explain single-mother poverty, existing research has either emphasized individualistic, or contextual explanations. Building on the prevalences and penalties framework (Brady et al. 2017), we advance the literature on single-mother poverty in three aspects: First, we extend the framework to incorporate heterogeneity among single mothers across countries and over time. Second, we apply this extended framework to Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden, whose trends in single-mother poverty (1990–2014) challenge ideal-typical examples of welfare state regimes. Third, using decomposition analyses, we demonstrate variation across countries in the relative importance of prevalences and penalties to explain time trends in single-mother poverty. Our findings support critiques of static welfare regime typologies, which are unable to account for policy change and poverty trends of single mothers. We conclude that we need to understand the combinations of changes in single mothers’ social compositions and social policy contexts, if we want to explain time trends in single-mother poverty.

Published in

Social Forces







Online Early

Open Access

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest