The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Family Structure and the Welfare of Women and Children: Evidence From the 2010 American Community Survey

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 8:45 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon B, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Kevin Shafer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Todd M. Jensen, MSW, CSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Provo, UT
Purpose: Marriage and family is one aspect of a complex equation associated with social welfare. In other words, marriage and family is one means by which social welfare, or access to resources that fill economic, social, and service needs, is determined. Prior research has paid particular attention to poverty and other issues in single parent households, while other family structures have received far less attention. Our paper expands prior knowledge on these issues because, unlike the vast majority of prior research linking family structure and well-being focuses on poverty status and/or income level, we draw larger comparisons than those between single, never-married women and their continuously-married counterparts.

Method: We use data from the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), a Census subsample of 3 million households in the United States. We used a 1 in 25 subsample limited to women, while accounting for their family structures (n= 69,577). 40% of our subsample is first married, 12% remarried, 12% divorced, 29% never-married, and 7% cohabiting. Our study has four dichotomous and one multinomial dependent variables: poverty status (at or below 100% poverty), near poverty (at or below 200% poverty), food stamp usage, welfare receipt, and health insurance status (no insurance, public insurance, and private insurance). We assess differences in these outcomes using logistic and multinomial logistic regression analyses across remarried, divorced, cohabiting, and never-married women. Further, we make comparisons not only to continuously first married households, but also to never-married households, as well. Differences based on parental status (has any child under 18 and has any child 5 or younger) were also explored.

Results: Overall, our results show that remarried, divorced, and cohabiting households do substantially worse on all outcomes than continuously married homes. For example, divorced women are 4.5 times as likely to be in poverty or near poverty as the first married, 28-32% more likely to use food stamps, and 5-6 times as likely to use welfare. Differences for cohabiting and never-married women were also found. To illustrate, divorced and cohabiting women were 3 times and 4 times as likely to have no insurance as private insurance. Differences between other family structures and first marriage were exacerbated when we analyzed the data among mothers. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, divorced and cohabiting women, with or without children, were more likely to be at or near poverty, use food stamps, and receive welfare, than never-married women.

Implications: Although never-married women, particularly mothers, fare worse than first married women on various measures of personal welfare, divorced, cohabiting, and even remarried women are also disadvantaged. In fact, divorced and cohabiting women are, in many cases, worse off than never-married women. Our results suggest that these groups are at particular risk for various negative outcomes and that social policies aimed at improving personal welfare for these women and their children should be considered in family law and policy. Furthermore, clinicians may use these results to identify at-risk populations previously not identified by research linking family structure and social welfare.