Date: 29 Aug 2013
The Happiness of Single Mothers: Evidence from the General Social Survey
Rent the article at a discountRent now
* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.Get Access
A vast “single mothers’ well-being” literature exists but has not studied single mothers’ subjective well-being (SWB). This shortcoming is important since it has been shown that there are potentially large slippages between economic indicators and SWB. Using repeated cross-sectional data from the General Social Survey 1972–2008, we examine single mothers’ happiness in the US both in absolute terms and relative to other groups: all respondents who are not single mothers, all female respondents who are not single mothers, single childless women, and married mothers. In levels, we find a significant single-mother happiness deficit compared to other groups. This deficit is explained by being single, with the happiness of single mothers statistically indistinguishable from single women without children. Over time, however, the deficit has shrunk relative to all other groups except married mothers. We discuss possible explanations for our findings, including: changes to social welfare programs, increased labor force participation, compositional shifts in single motherhood, and stigma. Our findings are most consistent with compositional shifts and changes in the stigma associated with being a single mother.
We would like to thank the anonymous referees for their helpful comments. John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee have contributed equally to this work.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.CrossRef
Bitler, M. P., & Hoynes, H. W. (2010). The state of the social safety net in the post-welfare reform era. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 71–127.
Blank, R. (2002). Evaluating welfare reform in the United States. Journal of Economic Literature, 40, 1105–1166.CrossRef
Di Tella, R. D., MacCulloch, R. J., & Oswald, A. J. (2003). The macroeconomics of happiness. Review of Economics and Statistics, 84, 809–827.CrossRef
Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542–575.CrossRef
Diener, E., & Oishi, S. (2005). The nonobvious social psychology of happiness. Psychological Inquiry, 16(4), 162–167.CrossRef
Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 81–84.CrossRef
Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1–31.CrossRef
Dolan, P., & Metcalfe, R. (2012). Measuring subjective wellbeing: Recommendations on measures for use by national governments. Journal of Social Policy, 41, 409–427.
Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Grail, T. S. (2009). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2007. U.S. Census Bureau Report P60-237.
Grogger, J., & Karoly, L. A. (2005). Welfare reform: Effects of a decade of change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gruber, J., Levine, P., & Steiger, D. (1999). Abortion legalization and child living circumstances: Who is the “marginal child”? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114, 263–291.CrossRef
GSS, 1972–2010: Cumulative codebook. (2011). Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center, The University of Chicago.
Herbst, C. M. (2012). Footloose and fancy free? Two decades of single mothers’ subjective well-being. Social Service Reivew, 86, 189–222.CrossRef
Herbst, C. M. (2013). Welfare reform and the subjective well-being of single mothers. Journal of Population Economics, 26, 203–238.CrossRef
Ifcher, J. (2011). The happiness of single mothers after welfare reform. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 11 (Topics).
Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(38), 16489–16493.CrossRef
Kahneman, D., & Krueger, A. B. (2006). Developments in the measurement of subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20, 3–24.CrossRef
Krueger, A. B., & Schkade, D. A. (2008). The reliability of subjective well-being measures. Journal of Public Economics, 92, 1833–1845.CrossRef
McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. D. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Meyer, B. D., & Sullivan, J. X. (2010). Further results on measuring the well-being of the poor using income and consumption. The Harris School of Public Policy Studies Working Paper #07.19.
Moffitt, R. A. (2003). Means-tested transfer programs in the United States. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRef
Morin, R. (2011). The public renders a split verdict on changes in family structure. Pew Social & Demographic Trends Reports, Pew Research Center. http://pewsocialtrends.org/2011/02/16/the-public-renders-a-split-verdict-on-changes-in-family-structure/2/.
Schmidt, L. (2007). Murphy Brown revisited: Human capital. Working Paper: Search and Nonmarital Childbearing Among Educated Women.
Schwartz, B. (2004). The tyranny of choice. Scientific American, 290(4), 70–75.CrossRef
Smith, T. W. (1990). Timely artifacts: A review of measurement variation in the 1972–1989 GSS. Chicago, IL: GSS Methodological Report, University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center.
Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2008a). Economic growth and subjective well-being: Reassessing the Easterlin paradox. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1–87.
Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2008b). Happiness inequality in the United States. Journal of Legal Studies, 37, S33–S79.CrossRef
Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2009). The paradox of declining female happiness. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 1, 190–225.
Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2010). Subjective and objective indicators of racial progress. Working paper.
Stutzer, A., & Frey, B. (2006). Does marriage make people happy or do happy people get married? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 35, 326–347.CrossRef
- The Happiness of Single Mothers: Evidence from the General Social Survey
Journal of Happiness Studies
Volume 15, Issue 5 , pp 1219-1238
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Springer Netherlands
- Additional Links
- Single mothers
- Subjective well-being
- General Social Survey
- Industry Sectors