Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Mothers' Within-Marriage Economic Prospects and Later Food Security: Does Marital Outcome Matter?

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Mothers' Within-Marriage Economic Prospects and Later Food Security: Does Marital Outcome Matter?

Article excerpt

Women's economic decline following their marital dissolution has been well documented for decades, mostly focusing on income measures (Bianchi, Subaiya, and Kahn 1999; Hoffman and Duncan 1988; Peterson 1996). More recent analyses reaffirmed divorced women's disadvantage in income and wealth compared to their male counterparts (Gadalla 2008; Zagorsky 2005). In contrast to the rich body of literature on divorced women's financial disadvantage, there is far less research on their material well-being. This study aims to fill this gap by focusing on food insecurity, a form of material hardship that has received increasing attention from researchers and policy makers in recent years.

Food insecurity refers to the "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire food in socially acceptable ways" (Bickel et al. 2000, 6). An estimated 14% of American households (17.4 million households) have occasional or regular difficulty providing enough food for all household members due to financial constraints (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2015). Food hardships jeopardize the health of children and adults alike (Gundersen and Ziliak 2015).

Some families are affected by food insecurity more than others. Female-headed households with children are at particular risk, with 35% experiencing food insecurity. The comparable figure for married-couple households with children is 12% (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2015). Literature on single mothers' food hardship is scant and conflicting. Some studies have found single motherhood to be predictive of higher household food insecurity, above and beyond effects of other socioeconomic factors (Bartfeld and Dunifon 2006; Olson et al. 2004). Meanwhile, research focusing on children found that income and other sociodemographic characteristics may fully explain the food security gap between children from single-mother families and those from married-couple families (Miller et al. 2014).

In light of the fact that half of all single mothers have experienced divorce, (1) an event with well documented negative impact on a mother's income and wealth (see Amato 2000, 2010 for a review of divorce's impact), it seems likely there may also be a link between divorce and a mother's subsequent food security. Furthermore, much as differences in human capital and child-related responsibilities have been found to moderate or mediate the relationship between divorce and income-related measures of economic well-being (Bridges, De'Armond, and Dean 2013; Smock 1994), these same factors may also moderate or mediate any relationship between marital dissolution and the subsequent risk of food insecurity. The only study to explicitly address whether union dissolution was associated with food insecurity found no such association, though that study was limited in scope to low-income households with preadolescent children and did not differentiate marital dissolution from nonmarital breakups (Hernandez and Pressler 2012).

In contrast to the limited research on the link between marital dissolution and food security, much is known about other socioeconomic determinants of food security (see Gundersen, Kreider, and Pepper 2011 for a review). Income is arguably the most direct and powerful determinant (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2015), but a few other socioeconomic factors are worth noting as well, including human capital, children, and assets.

Human capital--often represented by education, work experience and training, and health--can effectively predict one's market productivity and earning potential (Becker 1962). Although personal earnings and household income may mediate much of the impact of human capital on food security, evidence abounds regarding the independent effect of education and disability on food security, well beyond the income effect (Heflin, Corcoran, and Siefert 2007; Huang, Guo, and Kim 2010; Ribar and Hamrick 2003; She and Livermore 2007). …

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