Work, welfare, and single mothers' economic survival strategies

Kathryn Edin, Laura Lein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

231 Scopus citations


Past efforts to conceptualize the effects of welfare on work have failed to consider the full range of incentives and disincentives that low-skill single mothers perceive and act upon when making the choice between welfare and work. They also have neglected the fundamental economic reality of these mothers' lives - neither welfare nor low-wage work gives single mothers enough income to meet their families' expenses. In-depth interviews with 379 low-income single mothers in four U.S. cities show that welfare recipients and low-wage workers employ a set of survival strategies to make ends meet. The range of strategies available to mothers is shaped by the social-structural characteristics of the cities in which they live and by the quality of their private social safety nets. We argue that because some survival strategies are more compatible with work than others, the strategies a mother employs may affect her ability to move from welfare to work. Most welfare recipients want to leave welfare for work. However, most also believe that unless they can lower the costs associated with work or increase their earning power through investments in further education, they will be unable to meet their expenses by working.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-266
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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