Gender Issues

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 22–41 | Cite as

Comparison of Poverty and Income Disparity of Single Mothers and Fathers Across Three Decades: 1990–2010

  • Karen Z. Kramer
  • Laurelle L. Myhra
  • Virginia S. Zuiker
  • Jean W. Bauer
Original Article


As the potential for more children being raised by single parents increases, so does the societal need to examine this phenomena of single parent earnings and the impact it will have on the ability to support a family above the poverty line. Research suggests a substantial pay gap between men and women, but most research is limited to individuals in traditional families. This study explores income disparity and poverty between single mothers and single fathers across three decades (1990–2010), using a US nationally representative sample. Based on human capital theory, our analysis reveals that single mothers were more likely to be in poverty at far greater rates than single fathers, after controlling for a host of demographic, human capital, and work related variables. We also found that a contributing factor to this disparity is that single mothers were penalized for having more children while single fathers were not. We find that gendered poverty and the gender pay gap narrowed between 1990 and 2000, but have stayed stable since. Overall, human capital decreases the gender income and poverty gap, but a substantial gap still remains. Implications for policy-makers are discussed.


Poverty Single fathers Single mothers Income Single parent households/families 


  1. 1.
    American Community Survey. (2014). Homepage of the American Community Survey. US Bureau of the Census; Washington, DC. [March 27, 2015].
  2. 2.
    Barr, M. S. (2009). Financial services, saving, and borrowing among low- and moderate-income households: Evidence from the Detroit area household financial services survey. In R. M. Blank & M. S. Barr (Eds.), The insufficient funds: Savings, assets, credit, and banking among low-income households (pp. 66–96). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bauer, J. W., Braun, B., & Olson, P. D. (2000). Welfare to well-being framework for research, education, and outreach. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 34(1), 62–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bauer, J. W., & Dolan, E. M. (2011). Theories for studying rural families and work. In J. W. Bauer & E. M. Dolan (Eds.), Rural families and work: Context and problems (pp. 17–35). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bauman, K. J. (2002). Welfare, work and material hardship in single parent and other households. Journal of Poverty, 6(1), 21–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Becker, G. S. (1992). Human capital and the economy. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 136(1), 85–92.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Becker, G. S. (1993). Human capital a theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bhave, D. P., Kramer, A., & Glomb, T. G. (2012). Pay satisfaction and work-family conflict across time. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(5), 698–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (1992). The gender earning gap: Learning from international comparisons. The American Economic Review, 82(2), 533–538.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bowen, G. L., Desimone, L. M., & McKay, J. K. (1995). Poverty and the single mother family: A macroeconomic perspective. Marriage and Family Review, 20(1–2), 115–142.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bryant, W. K. (1992). Human capital, time use, and other family behavior. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 13(4), 395–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Bumpass, L. L., & Raley, R. K. (1995). Redefining single parent families: Cohabitation and changing family reality. Demography, 32(1), 97–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Christopher, K. (2002). Single motherhood, employment, or social assistance: Why are US women poorer than women in other affluent nations? Journal of Poverty, 6(2), 61–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Christopher, K. (2005). A ‘pauperization of motherhood’? Single motherhood and women’s poverty over time. Journal of Poverty, 9(3), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    CONSAD Research Corporation. (2009). An analysis of the reasons for the disparity in wages between men and women. Prepared for the US Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration. Contract Number GS-23F-025.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Douthitt, R. A. (2000). “Time to do the chores?” Factoring home-production needs into measures of poverty. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 21(1), 7–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Douthitt, R. A., & Huh, K. (1994). Expenditures on children by female-headed households. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 15(2), 75–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Duncan, G. J., & Rodgers, W. (1987). Single parent families: Are their economic problems transitory or persistent? Family Planning Perspectives, 19(4), 171–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Eggebeen, D., Snyder, T., & Manning, W. D. (1996). Children in single father families in demographic perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 17(4), 441–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ellwood, D. T., & Jencks, C. (2004). The spread of single parent families in the United States since 1960. Unpublished manuscript, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Fields, J. (2003). Children’s living arrangements and characteristics: March 2002. Accessed March 27, 2015.
  22. 22.
    Fields, J., & Casper, L. M. (2001). America’s families and living arrangements: March 2000. Current Population Reports, P20-537. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Friedman, B., Ying, S., & Wartell, S. R. (2012). Savings: The poor can save, too. Democracy, 26, 30–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Garasky, S., & Meyer, D. (1996). Reconsidering the increase in father-only families. Demography, 33(3), 385–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Grall, T. (2013). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2011. Retrieved from Accessed March 27, 2015.
  26. 26.
    Hawkins, D. N., Amato, P. R., & King, V. (2006). Parent-adolescent involvement: The relative influence of parent gender and residence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(1), 125–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Herd, P. (2005). Reforming a breadwinner welfare state: Gender, race, class, and social security reform. Social Forces, 83(4), 1365–1394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Himmelweit, S., Bergmann, B., Green, K., & Albelda, R. (2004). Dialogue lone mothers: What is to be done? Feminist Economics, 10(2), 237–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Hogan, D. P., Hao, L. X., & Parish, W. L. (1990). Race, kin networks, and assistance to mother-headed families. Social Forces, 68(3), 797–812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Hollander, D. (1996). Nonmarital childbearing in the United States: A government report. Family Planning Perspective, 28(1), 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hong, P. Y. P., & Pandey, S. (2008). Differential effects of human capital on the poor and near-poor: Evidence of social exclusion. Journal of Poverty, 12(4), 456–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Karlin, C., England, P., & Richardson, M. (2002). Why do “Women’s Jobs” have low pay for their educational level? Gender Issues, 20(4), 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Kramer, K. Z., Kelly, E. L., & McCulloch, J. B. (2013). Stay-at-home fathers: Definition and characteristics based on 34 years of CPS data. Journal of Family Issues. doi:10.1177/0192513X13502479.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Kramer, K. Z., & Kramer, A. (2015). The rise of stay-at-home father families in the US: The role of gender ideology, human capital, and economic downturns. Working paper, University of Illinois.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Laux, S. C., & Cook, C. C. (1994). Female-headed households in nonmetropolitan areas: Housing and demographic characteristics. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 15(4), 301–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Lievens, F., Sanchez, J. I., Bartram, D., & Brown, A. (2010). Lack of consensus among competency ratings of the same occupation: Noise or substance? Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(3), 562–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Lino, M. (1995). The economics of single parenthood: Past research and future directions. Marriage and Family Review, 20(1–2), 99–114.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Livingston, G. (2013). The rise of single fathers: A ninefold increase since 1960. Retrieved from Accessed March 23, 2014.
  39. 39.
    Manchester, C. F., Leslie, L. M., & Kramer, A. (2013). Is the clock still ticking? An evaluation of the consequences of stopping the tenure clock. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 66(1), 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Mendenhall, R., Kramer, K. Z., & Akresh, I. R. (2014). Asset accumulation and housing cost burden: Pathways to (not) saving. Housing Policy Debate, 24(2), 387–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Meyer, D. R., & Garasky, S. (1993). Custodial fathers: Myths, realities, and child support policy. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55(1), 73–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ruggles, S., Sobek, M., Alexander, T., Fitch, C. A., Goeken, R., Hall, P. K., et al. (2004). Integrated public use microdata series: Version 3.0 [machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Setterfield, M. (2013). Wages, demand and us macroeconomic travails: Diagnosis and prognosis (pp. 158–184). After the Great Recession: The Struggle for Economic Recovery and Growth.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Seccombe, K. (2000). Families in poverty in the 1990s: Trends, causes, consequences, and lessons learned. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(4), 1094–1113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    US Census Bureau. (2006). Income, poverty, and health coverage in the United States: 2006. Accessed March 27, 2015.
  46. 46.
    US Census Bureau. (1997). Children with single parentsHow they fare. Accessed March 27, 2015.
  47. 47.
    US Census Bureau (2009). America’s families and living arrangements: 2009. Retrieved from Accessed March 27, 2015.
  48. 48.
    Vespa, J., Lewis, J. M., & Kreider, R. M. (2013). America’s families and living arrangements: 2012. Population characteristics. Retrieved from Accessed March 27, 2015.
  49. 49.
    Zhan, M., & Pandey, S. (2004). Economic well-being of single mothers: Work first or post-secondary education? Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 31(3), 87–112.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Z. Kramer
    • 1
  • Laurelle L. Myhra
    • 2
  • Virginia S. Zuiker
    • 3
  • Jean W. Bauer
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Human and Community DevelopmentUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Native American Community ClinicMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Family Social ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaSaint PaulUSA

Personalised recommendations