IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Material Well-Being of Single Mother Households in the 1980s and 1990s: What Can We Learn From Food Spending?


  • Thomas DeLeire
  • Helen Levy


A combination of welfare reform, expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other policy changes led to increases in the labor supply of single mothers in the 1990s and a decline in their participation in cash welfare programs. Whether the material well-being of single mothers and their families has improved is less clear. Meyer and Sullivan (2004) report that single mothers’ food expenditure increased during the 1990s and conclude that their well-being either improved or remained the same, relative to single childless women or married women with children. Our reading of the data suggests that a more cautious interpretation is in order. In particular, we note that increases in food spending do not necessarily reflect increases in well-being. Total food spending may change even though the actual food consumed did not if there is a shift from home-prepared food to commercially-prepared or restaurant food. We examine trends in spending on food at home and food away from home using data from the Consumer Expenditure Diary Survey and find that they are consistent with such a shift. We find that the entire increase in food expenditure can be explained by a shift from food at home to food away from home.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas DeLeire & Helen Levy, 2004. "The Material Well-Being of Single Mother Households in the 1980s and 1990s: What Can We Learn From Food Spending?," Working Papers 0501, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:0501

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Gelber, Alexander M. & Mitchell, Joshua W., 2009. "Taxes and Time Allocation: Evidence from Single Women," MPRA Paper 19148, University Library of Munich, Germany.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:0501. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Eleanor Cartelli). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.