How Do Marriage, Cohabitation, and Single Parenthood Affect the Material Hardships of Families with Children?

Robert Lerman, Urban Institute

This paper examines the effect of marital and family status on the experience of material hardship, using data from the 1996 Panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). It is not clear that marriage should reduce economic hardship relative to cohabitation and single parents in multi-adult households. The study analyzes the relationship between marital and family status and such key indicators of hardship as the inability to meet essential expenses, poor housing conditions, neighborhood problems (including crime, schools, public services), and not having enough resources to buy adequate amounts of food. The results indicate marriage does lower material hardship, even among households with similar incomes, income stability, and demographic and educational characteristics. Moreover, the reduced hardship associated with marriage extends both to low-income and to less-educated women, despite their less promising marriage market.

Presented in Session 104: Cohabitation