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Single Mothers' Employment Dynamics and Adolescent Well-Being.

June 2004

Ariel Kalil, Ph.D., Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago; Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, M.P.A., Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.

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The booming economy of the mid-to-late 1990’s helped single mothers reach unprecedented employment levels. Researchers have been concerned with the largely unaddressed questions of whether single mothers who enter the workforce will be able to earn a living wage, the stability of women’s jobs over time, and the links between these job characteristics and child well-being. In this paper, we use data from a nationally-representative sample of single mothers whose employment experiences we observe over a two-year period during the mid-to-late 1990’s. We rely on mothers’ weekly work histories to create detailed patterns of employment, which we then link to change over time in the well-being of the mothers’ adolescent children. Controlling for a wide array of background characteristics and potential selection factors, we find that, relative to being continuously employed in a good job, adolescents whose mothers lose a job without regaining employment show declines in mastery and self-esteem. Those whose mothers are continuously employed in a bad job show an increase in grade repetition and those whose mothers are either persistently out of the labor force or lose more than one job show an increased likelihood of school drop-out. These effects are largely unexplained by concomitant changes in family income.

Child Well-being and Child Development, Educational Attainment