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Keywords:

  • ethnography;
  • generalized gender distrust;
  • interpersonal trust;
  • low-income mothers;
  • marriage

Recent scholarship concerning low rates of marriage among low-income mothers emphasizes generalized gender distrust as a major impediment in forming sustainable intimate unions. Guided by symbolic interaction theory and longitudinal ethnographic data on 256 low-income mothers from the Three-City Study, we argue that generalized gender distrust may not be as influential in shaping mothers' unions as some researchers suggest. Grounded theory analysis revealed that 96% of the mothers voiced a general distrust of men, yet that distrust did not deter them from involvement in intimate unions. Rather, the pivotal ways mothers enacted trust in their partners were demonstrated by 4 emergent forms of interpersonal trust that we labeled as suspended, compartmentalized, misplaced, and integrated. Implications for future research are discussed.