The accumulation of economic disadvantage: the influence of childbirth and divorce on the income and poverty risk of single mothers

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

August 15, 2022


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.

Published in


Volume and page numbers

Volume: 59 , p.1 -1






Open Access

Copyright © 2022 The Author

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

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