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For Richer or Poorer?


  • Wendy Sigle-Rushton
  • Sara McLanahan


With welfare reauthorization imminent, many conservative politicians are suggesting that although states have been successful at moving welfare mothers into paid employment, they have paid too little attention to the second goal of welfare reform - encouraging the formation of two-parent families. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we compare the characteristics and earnings capacities of married and unmarried parents and explore the extent to which marriage to their babies' fathers would lift unwed mothers out of poverty. We find that unmarried parents are vastly different from married parents when it comes to age, education, health status and behavior, employment, and wage rates. These differences translate into important differences in earnings capacities, which, in turn, translate into differences in poverty. Proponents of marriage are overstating its benefits when they compare the median earnings or poverty rates of single mother families to those of married, two-parent families. Assuming the same family structure, labor supply, and wage schedule, our estimates, suggest that much of that difference can be attributed to factors other than marital status.

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  • Wendy Sigle-Rushton & Sara McLanahan, 2002. "For Richer or Poorer?," JCPR Working Papers 264, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:264

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daniel, K., 1991. "Does Marriage Make Men More Productive?," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 92-2, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
    2. Sanders Korenman & David Neumark, 1991. "Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(2), pages 282-307.
    3. Scott South & Kim Lloyd, 1992. "Marriage markets and nonmarital fertility in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 29(2), pages 247-264, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kristen Harknett, 2009. "Why are Children with Married Parents Healthier? The Case of Pediatric Asthma," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 28(3), pages 347-365, June.
    2. Shanta Pandey & Jeoung-hee Kim, 2008. "Path to Poverty Alleviation: Marriage or Postsecondary Education?," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 29(1), pages 166-184, March.

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