Single Parenthood and Childhood Outcomes in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Urban South

Howard Bodenhorn

NBER Working Paper No. 12056
Issued in February 2006
NBER Program(s):Children, Development of the American Economy

Families are the core social institution and a growing body of research documents the costs of single parenthood for children in the twentieth century. This study documents racial differences in the incidence and costs of single parenthood in the mid-nineteenth century. Data from the urban South reveal two notable consequences of single parenthood. First, white children residing with single mothers left school earlier than children residing with two parents. Black children in single mother homes started school later and left school earlier. Single motherhood is therefore associated with less lifetime schooling for both races, but the consequences of living in a nontraditional home was larger for blacks. Second, single motherhood was associated with an increased incidence of labor force participation for white youth, but not for blacks. Single parenthood imposed costs, in terms of foregone human capital formation, on children in the mid-nineteenth century, but the consequences of single motherhood were mitigated by social norms toward childhood education.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12056

Published: Bodenhorn, Howard. "Single Parenthood and Childhood Outcomes in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Urban South." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 38, 1 (Summer 2007): 33-64.

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