Single Mothers: the Fight for Capital

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Poverty is the common enemy of the United States, but it particularly targets women. There are many factors that contribute to poverty’s discrimination against women, but our discussion today will involve women and the struggle against capital. Rather than isolating single mothers’ poverty in terms of financial capital, which will be discussed in depth in a later essay, our primary concern here is the single mothers’ social capital and how this affects economic opportunities and marital statistics.
Social capital is the measure of a person’s access to societal support via friends, neighbors, and/or family. Essentially, it is their connection with people. Branching from this broad definition, there are two smaller appendages of social capital: bonding social capital and bridging social capital. Bonding social capital refers to access to social, economic, and cultural resources that provide emotional support for daily stressors such as rides to work, babysitting, and monetary loans. Bridging social capital is the ability to extend outside your social circle and network to get ahead. Both are essential to economic and cultural success; the problem is its self perpetuation.

Not only does social capital multiply itself, but it also provides a basis for the production of cultural capital, institutional capital, and economic capital. It seems simple enough, but for single mothers in poverty, access to social capital is oftentimes limited or unstable. Low income women, who are statistically most likely to be single mothers than, have higher bonding capital and lower bridging capital than middle-upper class women. While their access to bonding capital allows them access to potential resources for child care (one of the most problematic issues economically and socially for poor single mothers), they lack the long term benefits of bridging capital that can provide access to higher paying job opportunities. Full time work is the most influential factor to relieving single women of poverty, but limited access to higher skill jobs and low yielding bonding capital reduces options for women in terms of child care and opportunities for furthering personal skill level and education.

Social capital also influences the percentage at which women are likely to get married and stay married. Hence, the lower the access to social capital, the less likely the single mother will have access to a second income, and in 1996 with the passing of the TANF Act by Bill Clinton, the less likely they would be to receive welfare assistance primarily due to unemployment rates. However, personal circumstances among single mothers who have begun with low social capital makes interviews, transportation, and child care while attending these interviews difficult. Unfortunately, the cycle is self perpetuating.
Overall, single mothers are less likely to have access to the leveraging benefits of bridging social capital and have large, shallow pools of bonding capital. By providing single mothers with short term solutions in bonding capital such as public transportation, monetary loans, or child care, we assist their daily survival; until we are able to find a solution to providing higher returns of bridging capital, including educational resources, networking opportunities via higher skill job opportunities and fair wages, the problem will continue to persist among our class of working single mothers. As their children are raised, they are put into a low income situation that has the potential of permeating the problem rather than alleviating it. Solutions in educational funding and redlining are two primary examples of institutions that the working poor would be benefited by in the long term because it increases bridging capital.


Johnson, Jennifer A.; Honnold, Julie A.; Threlfall, Perry. “Impact of Social Capital on Employment and Marriage among Low Income Single Mothers.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare 38.4 (2011): 9-32.


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