Increase in Never Married Single Mothers and the Transfer of Child Support By

Increase in never married single mothers and the

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Increase in Never-Married Single Mothers and the Transfer of Child Support By far the most common path to single parenting in the 1960s and 1970s was for a woman to marry, have one or more children within marriage, experience a marital disruption, and then raise dependent children on her own. Another path to single parenting became increasingly common in the 1980s and 1990s, es- pecially among blacks. This was for an unmarried women to have a child and raise that child on her own. Between 1960 and the early 1990s, the proportion of female family householders who had never married and who had children increased from 4% to 31% (Bianchi 1995). Between 1983 and 1992, the pro- portion of children in single-parent homes with a never married parent rose 10 percentage points to 34% (Saluter 1991, Saluter 1993:29). An economic profile of never-married mothers shows them to be very dis- tinct from divorced mothers. Never-married mothers are much younger and less well-educated than divorced mothers. Consequently, only 39% of children with a never-married mother live with a parent who is employed, compared with 69% of those with a divorced mother. The median income of children with a never-married mother is only about one half that of children with a di- vorced mother. Almost two thirds of children with a never-married mother live in poverty compared with 38% of those with divorced mothers. Perhaps most important, whereas about one half of divorced mothers with children under age 21 report receiving some child support from the nonresident father of her chil- dren, that percentage drops to 17% among never-married mothers (Bianchi & Spain 1996: Table 10). After low wages for women, the second reason Pearce (1978) noted for the “feminization of poverty” in the 1960s and 1970s was the failure of the private transfer system. When marriages dissolved or were never formed, mothers ended up caring for the children and fathers failed to financially support those children. Some argued that, ironically, the reform of divorce proceedings in the wake of the women’s movement, making it easier to divorce and making it FEMINIZATION AND JUVENILIZATION OF POVERTY 321
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more difficult for women to be granted alimony awards, left women more vul- nerable and unprotected than before reform (Weitzman 1985). Most impor- tantly, enforcement of child support awards was minimal: Fathers failed to pay child support with relative impunity. If court orders of support were difficult to obtain and enforce for divorced mothers, they were even more problematic for mothers who did not marry the father of their children. Hence, as the source of growth in the number of single parents shifted away from divorced mothers and to never-married mothers, particularly in the 1980s, the hurdles to the private transfer of funds from absent parents to their children grew. Now, paternity had to be estab- lished before a court order could be pursued. If welfare mothers pursued court action and were successful, only $50 of the support actually reached a mother and her children. The remainder went to the state to defray the cost of AFDC payments. Edin & Lein (1997), in their ethnographic work with low-income
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