Some of the poverty issues that single mothers face are specific to the U.S. (Is this intro odd to you? Click here to read Part 1 of the Single Mothers and Poverty series on the Louisville Single Woman Examiner page.)
For example, in Western Europe and Scandinavia, there are more good, higher-wage, part-time jobs that allow single mothers to work and still take care of their families, said Karen Christopher, PhD, a professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Louisville. Christopher’s main area of research is gender employment and social policy.
Other countries also see government as playing a larger role in ensuring families don’t fall into poverty. Sweden offers strong examples on many fronts. Christopher explained, “Sweden doesn’t spend a lot of money on welfare, or social assistance as we think of it, because they spend money on childcare and part-time jobs” instead. “Their way of life is much more amenable to single mothers,” and their poverty rate is 3 percent, Christopher continued.
Also, culture may contribute to the United States’s distinct treatment of single mothers. We the people of the United States love marriage. We hold it in very high esteem, as evidenced by the gay marriage debate. We give married people tax and insurance benefits that single people and couples in co-habitation don’t have. Christopher noted that’s not the case in Sweden, and when there’s no difference between the benefits of marriage and those of living together, there’s less reason to do it.
While Christopher pointed out that advances in women’s rights have decreased marriage’s economic function for them, it can still be very difficult for a woman who already has children to get married, just as it’s also difficult for low-income people to get married. Today, people are expected to have attained a certain level of financial stability before entering marriage. It takes longer for people working low-wage jobs and for single mothers to achieve financial success, Christopher said.
“Most single mothers do a good job at something that is very hard to do,” Christopher said.