Voluntary Stigmatization and Social Comparison: Single Mothers View Their Lot1


  • 1

    This research was supported by funds from the Western Consortium for Public Health. The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Vicki Ebin, MSPH, who ably served as the interviewer, assisted in transcription of the materials, took major responsibility for data entry, and commented upon an earlier draft of this manuscript. Shelley E. Taylor is also acknowledged with appreciation for her thoughtful comments on the draft.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Judith M. Siegel, UCLA, School of Public Health, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1772.


This research examined the impact of voluntary Stigmatization, depression, and self-esteem on downward social comparisons. The stigmatized group was 51 mothers who chose to become parents as single women; 51 demographically similar married mothers were the nonstigmatized group. The women described their stressors and rated these stressors relative to other mothers of the same marital status and relative to mothers who differed in marital status. Consistent with downward comparison theory, Stigmatization increased the likelihood of making downward comparisons. Contrary to the theory, high self-esteem and low levels of depression resulted in self-enhancing comparisons, but only when individuals compared themselves to others who differed in Stigmatization status. The combination of these individual difference variables and Stigmatization increased the tendency to make downward comparisons.