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


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.

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This study is dedicated to the memory of Jean W. Bauer, a professor in the Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, a beloved mentor to graduate students and colleagues. This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project MIN-52–07.

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Correspondence to Karen Z. Kramer.

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Deceased: Jean W. Bauer

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Kramer, K.Z., Myhra, L.L., Zuiker, V.S. et al. Comparison of Poverty and Income Disparity of Single Mothers and Fathers Across Three Decades: 1990–2010. Gend. Issues 33, 22–41 (2016).

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  • Poverty
  • Single fathers
  • Single mothers
  • Income
  • Single parent households/families