The contribution of social support to patterns of employment among unmarried mothers with young children: a comparative analysis of hispanics, blacks, and whites

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Radey, Melissa Anne

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This dissertation addresses the influences of race and ethnicity, as well as family, father, community, and human capital resources, on social support and employment patterns among unmarried mothers with young children. In the 1970s and 1980s, research indicated greater access to supports among Hispanics and Blacks. More recent studies suggest that Whites have greater access. Most prior studies examined race/ethnicity or social supports. This study examines these variables simultaneously to better understand how social supports influence employment patterns and how these influences differ among Hispanic, Black, and White mothers. Data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being study were analyzed using multinomial logistic regression. Predictor variables were measured primarily at the focal child’s birth and at Year 1 to predict employment at Year 3. Outcome measures were hours currently employed, weeks employed in past year, and number of jobs held since child’s birth. Separate regression models were run for Hispanic, Black, and White mothers to assess whether race/ethnicity moderated the relationship between social support and employment. In bivariate analyses, Hispanic mothers were less likely to be employed than Whites. This difference was largely explained by Hispanics’ lower levels of formal education and, to a lesser extent, their more traditional values. After including human capital, there were no racial/ethnic differences in employment. Black and Hispanic mothers had less access to family supports than Whites but used more community supports. Family supports indicated higher employment, but community supports indicated lower employment. Father supports made a negligible contribution to employment for all groups. Hispanic mothers had lower educations than White mothers; there were no differences for Blacks and Whites. Although access to child care for Hispanics and financial support for Blacks indicated increased employment, neither was significant for Whites. Education was more closely associated with employment for Hispanics and Blacks than for Whites. Results suggest increased need for childcare arrangement and subsidies and effective high school completion, job preparation, and rent assistance programs. Health barriers, common among these mothers, must also be addressed in this work-focused, welfare reform era. To improve employment stability, family and community support must be considered together so unmarried mothers can obtain the resources to meet their multiple, diverse needs.