Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Financial Management Strategies in Unmarried Mothers' Romantic Partnerships

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sharon Bzostek, Rugters University
Two-fifths of all births in the U.S. today are to unmarried mothers (NCHS 2015), and many children will experience the dissolution of a parental union and re‐partnering by their parents early on in their lives. Most children will continue to live with their mothers after their parents break up, and maternal re‐partnering may be an effective strategy for recouping some of the financial losses associated with relationship dissolution (Dewilde & Uunk 2008; Jansen, Mortelmans & Snoeckx 2009).

Recent research about a cohort of women with births in large cities in the United States (the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, or FFCWS) suggests that unmarried mothers who re‐partner tend to do so with men who represent an improvement over the child’s biological father in terms of socioeconomic potential (Bzostek, McLanahan & Carlson 2012). Yet studies directly examining the financial consequences of maternal re-partnering in the FFCWS find that financial well‐being does not seem to be consistently improved by the entrance of a new partner into the household (Carlson & Berger 2013, Bzostek 2015, Osborne, Berger & Magnuson 2012).

One potential explanation for this limited improvement in economic well-being is that mothers may not benefit financially from such partnerships if the men do not share their income with the mothers, and/or if the men hold most of the financial decision‐making power in the household. Kenney (2008) finds, for example, that children are at a heightened risk of experiencing food insecurity when their father (vs. their mother) controls the household’s money. Kenney and Bogle (2010) also find evidence to suggest that married (but not cohabiting) couples that do not pool their incomes have higher rates of subsequent union dissolution, suggesting a relationship between income pooling and family dynamics.

Despite the potential importance of financial management strategies, little is currently known about how such strategies vary between mothers in re-partnered versus other families. This paper will use longitudinal data from the first five waves of the FFCWS (through when the focal child is age nine) to compare patterns of resource pooling and financial decision-making between unmarried mothers living with a new partner and those who are living with the focal child’s biological father.

Issues to be explored in the paper will include: whether strategies differ between cohabiting and married-couple families, and whether this difference is similar in two-biological parent and new partner families; identifying significant predictors of particular financial strategies (such as characteristics of the mother’s partner, relationship duration and quality, the number of shared and non-shared children, the mother’s previous financial situation, whether there are grandparents or other family members in the household, and the mother’s attitudes about traditional gender roles); and exploring potential heterogeneity in patterns of financial management by mothers’ education and race/ethnicity.

The results from this paper will have important implications for policies related to promoting financial well-being and security for unmarried mothers and their children, a segment of the population that is disproportionately exposed to poverty and economic insecurity.