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Thanks for Nothing: The Economics of Single Motherhood since 1980

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Forthcoming, Oxford University Press

In 1980, single mother families were about five times as two-parent families to be poor. In 2022, single mother families were still five times as likely to be poor. How can that be, given the dramatic increases in female education and labor force participation over the past few decades?

The answer lies in the types of women who become single mothers. In 1980, the majority were divorced mothers; by 2022, most single mothers were women who’d given birth out of wedlock. These two populations have vastly different levels of human capital and relationships to the labor force. Wolfinger and McKeever survey decades of data to offer the most detailed statistical portrait of single mothers to date, and offer concrete suggestions for how the government should respond.