Avenues and Barriers to Residential Mobility among Single Mothers

By South, Scott J.; Crowder, Kyle D. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Avenues and Barriers to Residential Mobility among Single Mothers


South, Scott J., Crowder, Kyle D., Journal of Marriage and Family


ScOTt J. SouTH State University of New York at Albany KYLE D. CROWDER Western Washington University*

Longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics are combined with local census data to examine single mothers' patterns and determinants of residential mobility between poor and nonpoor neighborhoods in the United States. Moving from a poor to a nonpoor neighborhood is facilitated by marrying and by obtaining employment and is impeded by age and home ownership. Even net of numerous controls, African American single mothers are substantially less likely to escape poor neighborhoods and significantly more likely to move into them than their non-Black counterparts. Neither receipt of Aid to Families with Dependent Children nor adult coresidence significantly reduces the likelihood that single mothers will move from a poor to a nonpoor neighborhood.

Key Words: marriage, migration, moving, neighborhoods, single mothers.

Prior research shows that, relative to two-parent families, families headed by unmarried mothers are spatially concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods (McLanahan & Garfinkel, 1989) and that residence in these economically disadvantaged areas has adverse consequences for unwed mothers and their children (Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, Klebanov, & Sealand, 1993; Crane,1991; Duncan, 1994; Elliott et al., 1996; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; Klebanov, Brooks-Gunn, & Duncan, 1994; Massey & Shibuya, 1995; McLanahan & Booth, 1989; Wilson, 1996). Research also suggests that low-income, female-headed families who move from inner-city, underclass neighborhoods to more prosperous suburban communities improve their socioeconomic standing and social integration (Katz, Kling, & Liebman, 1997; Rosenbaum & Popkin, 1991; Rosenbaum, Popkin, Kaufman, & Rusin, 1991). Yet, we know little about the characteristics of mother-only families that facilitate or constrain residential mobility from poor neighborhoods to more prosperous areas or that enhance or retard the risk of moving from wealthier to poorer neighborhoods. Single mothers and their children move more frequently than two-parent families (Long, 1992; McLanahan, 1983), especially in the years immediately following a divorce (Speare & Goldscheider, 1987), but little is known about the socioeconomic characteristics of the neighborhoods that mobile, mother-only families vacate or enter. And, although patterns of residential mobility between poor and nonpoor neighborhoods have been described for the general population (Massey, Gross, & Shibuya, 1994; Nelson & Edwards, 1993; South & Crowder, 1997), motheronly families are likely to face a unique constellation of avenues and barriers to residential mobility and thus are worthy of special examination (Mulroy, 1995).

We examine the patterns and determinants of residential mobility among unmarried mothers. We merge individual-level data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) with census data describing the poverty status of single mothers' neighborhoods to identify the characteristics of families and their contexts that enhance or diminish opportunities to leave economically disadvantaged neighborhoods for better environments. We also explore the influence of individual and familial factors on the likelihood that single mothers initially residing in nonpoor neighborhoods will move to poor areas. Particular attention is focused on the relative impact of marriage, human capital endowments, welfare receipt, and household structure as avenues or barriers to escaping-or averting moving to-poor neighborhoods.

THEORY AND HYPOTHESES

Beginning with Rossi's (1955) pioneering analysis, conventional models of residential mobility emphasize life-cycle and demographic factors as key determinants of the decision to move. Age, marital status, and the presence of children all have been shown to play important roles in mobility (Long, 1988). For single mothers, marriage is likely to be a particularly salient event. …

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