The Changing Demography of Single Motherhood and Its Midlife Consequences: A Study of Southern Sweden, 1905-2015

Maria Stanfors, Lund University
Gabriel Brea Martínez, Centre for Economic Demography, Department of Economic History, Lund University

It is well established that single mothers have less resources than partnered mothers with implications for their own well-being and the future of their children. This holds for past and present times. Single mothers are disadvantaged, through the lack of a spouse, in terms of income, social networks, and time. Theoretically, married women benefit from the pooling of resources, and the sharing of work and family responsibilities with their partner. Despite that the 20th century brought about many changes in the lives of families (e.g., increased female labor force participation, urbanization), the importance of two-parent homes grew with implications for the lives of both adults and children. Thus, the vulnerability and the ability of single mothers to provide for children continued to be of public concern. In this paper, we apply a long-term perspective and study the changing demography of single motherhood over more than a century. Single motherhood can result from divorce, death, childbirth that occurs either within or outside a relationship, or adoption and reflects fundamental demographic shifts. We document the routes into single motherhood and study the determinants of it. Further, we investigate the consequences of single motherhood in terms of midlife outcomes (SES, education, income, health) compared to those of married women with a particular interest in change over time. We apply linear probability models on individual-level data from the Scanian Economic-Demographic Database covering women aged 15-49 in 1905–2009. Results confirm shifts in the routes into single motherhood towards divorce and childbirth within a cohabiting relationship, though primarily after 1970. There is persistence in the disadvantage of those who become single mothers. Single motherhood is associated with disadvantage regarding economic and health outcomes across the study period. Results show that marital status still matters for mothers’ with implications for single mothers’ well-being.

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 Presented in Session 138. Long-Term Perspectives on Fertility and Its Consequences