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Trends in the Economic Wellbeing of Unmarried-Parent Families with Children: New Estimates Using an Improved Measure of Poverty

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Children born to unmarried parents make up an increasing share of American children. But official poverty statistics provide little insight into their economic well-being because these statistics use an outdated definition of the family unit and an incomplete measure of family resources. Using Current Population Survey data and an improved measure of poverty, the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, we reassess long-term trends in poverty for children in unmarried parent families—those led by single mothers, those led by single fathers, and those led by cohabiting couples—as opposed to their counterparts in married couple families. We find that single-mother families have the highest poverty rates among families, both historically and today, but the improved measure shows much larger declines in single-mother families’ poverty rates over time. Single-father and cohabiting families also have high poverty rates, but those rates have also fallen by approximately one third since the 1960s.

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This work received funding from Annie E. Casey Foundation, The JPB Foundation and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant No. R24 HD058486-03).

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Correspondence to JaeHyun Nam.

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Wimer, C., Fox, L., Garfinkel, I. et al. Trends in the Economic Wellbeing of Unmarried-Parent Families with Children: New Estimates Using an Improved Measure of Poverty. Popul Res Policy Rev 40, 1253–1276 (2021).

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