Other Countries Have Half of Our Single-Mother Child Poverty Rate

Earlier, I wrote a post titled "The Single Mother Child Poverty Myth." In it, I pointed out that sky-high poverty rates for children in single mother families is not unavoidable. We know this because other countries avoid them. The data in that post is from 2000. Here I update some of it to 2010.

Since I haven't been able to figure out a good way to access the LIS microdata directly, I will rely here on the summary figures the LIS people put out on key statistics.

Here is the percentage of children who are in single mother families:

All of the figures come from 2010, except Sweden's, which come from 2005. It's worth noting that, unlike the study that I relied upon in my prior piece, the LIS summary figures only have categories for two-parent families and single-mother families. This is a bit unfortunate because there is a meaningful difference between single-mother families where the mother lives alone and single-mother families where the mother lives with relatives (e.g. her own parents). But it's good enough here.

As you can see, there is variation among the countries, though not of the sort where you could conclude that America is an unparalleled outlier in the world of single-mother parenting.

Here is the poverty rates for children in single mother families:

Poverty is defined here using the conventional international measure of 50% of the median income. It is measured at disposable income, meaning it takes into consideration both market and social income (i.e. welfare incomes). The poverty rate for children in single mother families in the US is 33 to 40 percentage points higher than the poverty rate for such children in these Nordic countries.

Sadly, the LIS summary figures do not include a market income poverty measure for this population. So I can't show you how much of the above difference is attributable to social income programs. However, provided things have not radically changed in the last decade, the overwhelming reason for the different poverty rates is social income programs:

The bar on the left is poverty at the market income distribution and the bar on the right is poverty at disposable income distribution. The upshot is that social income programs are the primary reason for the poverty rate differences.

Believe it or not, one of the more telling graphs on this subject is actually child poverty rates for two-parent families:

The poverty rates are much lower across the board for two-parent families relative to single-mother families. But you'll notice that the magnitude of difference between the Nordics and the US for this statistic is similar to the magnitude of difference for the single-mother figures. The single-mother child poverty rate for the US is 3x to 4.8x higher than the Nordics' rate. The two-parent child poverty rate for the US is 4.6x to 6.1x higher than the Nordics' rate.

The reason why the single-mother child poverty rate is so much higher in the US is the same reason why the two-parent child poverty rate is so much higher in the US: bad distributive institutions. It would not be hard to reform these bad distributive institutions and thereby dramatically cut child poverty in both two-parent and single-mother families (see this plan that mirrors what the Nordics do), but we just don't.

In addition to their being no political party that has any interest in fixing this easy problem, the media totally ignores proven and obvious poverty-reduction strategies for niche case studies.