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Female-Headed Families: Why Are They So Poor?

Listed author(s):
  • Joan R. Rodgers

Over the last few decades in the United States, the poverty rate for female-headed families (with no husband present) has been about three times the poverty rate for male-headed families (with no wife present) and about six times the poverty rate for married- couple families. This paper addresses the question of why, in general, female-headed families are so much poorer than other families. A decomposition of poverty rates and a set of probit models are used to identify the factors which determine the poverty rates for the three family types. The following control variables are found to be important determinants of poverty for all three family types: education of family members; age, race, disability, and unemployment of the family head; geographical location, size and age composition of the family. Both married-couple families and male-headed families are found to be less poor than female-headed families mainly because additional units of those control variables which reduce (increase) poverty have a larger (smaller) impact in the case of the former two family types than in the case of female-headed families. Of lesser importance is the fact that female-headed families, on average, have less (more) of those control variables which reduce (increase) poverty.

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Paper provided by Levy Economics Institute in its series Economics Working Paper Archive with number wp_45.

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Date of creation: Mar 1991
Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_45
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  1. Joan R. Rodgers, 1990. "Poverty and Household Composition," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_39, Levy Economics Institute.
  2. Joan R. Rodgers, 1990. "Poverty and Choice of Marital Status: A Self-Selection Model," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_42, Levy Economics Institute.
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