Contemporary Work and Family Issues Affecting Marriage and Cohabitation Among Low-Income Single Mothers


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    John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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    Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, 556 Mergenthaler Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218.

Women, Children and Families Program, RTI International, 1440 Main Street, Suite 310, Waltham, MA 02451 (


In this paper, we advance and test an integrative model of the effects of employment status, nonstandard work schedules, male employment, and women's perceptions of economic instability on union formation among low-income single mothers. On the basis of the longitudinal data from 1,299 low-income mothers from the Three-City Welfare Study, results indicate that employment status alone is not significantly associated with whether women marry or cohabit. Rather, we find that nonemployed mothers and mothers working nonstandard schedules were less likely to marry compared to those working standard schedules. Mothers' perceptions of economic well-being were associated with marriage at Wave 2. In contrast, cohabitation outcomes were not explained by economic factors, but were related to the perception of child care support. The policy implications of these results are discussed, in particular, as they relate to welfare reform's work and family goals.