Much of our discussion relating to the poverty of single mothers has related to social capital. Up until this point, we have talked about the different types of capitals and how each of those affect women in their spheres both domestically and publically – for instance, we have discussed the wage gap and the various reasons this gap has perpetuated and remains a roadblock for single mothers in a cycle of poverty sustained by stressors to work and care for their child at the same time and characterized by inconsistent and unfair wages. Here, however, we will discuss the connection between poverty and abuse using a localized study conducted by Farber and Miller-Cribbs. Within their study, they give evidence that poverty limits womens’ agency and puts them at higher risk for abuse, unwed pregnancies, and thus sustains unfavorable circumstances for escaping poverty.
The relationship between domestic violence and poverty seems to be a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” sort of question. Of course, unlike the chicken and egg example, poverty does not always yield domestic abuse and the abuse is not always or only found in low income areas. However, the two ideas correlate. Historically, government funding has put very little emphasis on educational institutions in low income neighborhoods, which results in a very low amount of human capital, one of the most effective resources one can have to eliminate personal poverty. Low income women are generally more likely to experience abuse, and victims of abuse are over-represented among welfare recipients.
Although domestic violence is a national problem not confined to race or gender, it is apparent that single mothers, who are significantly more likely to live below the poverty line than single fathers or married couples, thus have a higher probability of experiencing abuse. Because of their lack of social capital, it is also more difficult to escape these situations, particularly with children. Options to leave the abusive situation are limited due to stigma, finances, transportation, emotional support, and/or geographical locations of shelters. Without the confidence and emotional clarity that result from financial stability, decisions of this magnitude are often considered in the scope of what physical resources are necessary to maintain life for both the mother and the children. For this reason, finance, for example, became justification for staying with abusers.
In the event that the woman stayed with the abuser, there was a tendency on behalf of adolescent youth, particularly female youth, to assume “mom” responsibilities. Family structures tend to dissolve as a result of domestic abuse; there is both a shifting and a polarization of gender roles. This pattern generally assumes itself generationally as well – young women who are raised in an abusive home will likely go on to be in a relationship with an abuser themselves. The weakening of familial structures lends a strong influence to the perpetuation of both poverty and resulting domestic abuse.
Perhaps some women are in a domestically abusive relationship because they were divorced and are now struggling in the face of custody attempting to provide for their family with very few resources. Other women may be experiencing this abuse as a result of having already been stationed in poverty and thus were more likely to be involved in high risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex or substance abuse. Although Farber and Miller-Cribbs did not directly address this point, unprotected sex is certainly a higher risk behavior for women than it is for men. Not only are their more financial and social consequences for women than for men, but it also tends to facilitate a polarization of traditional gender roles – men assuming a greater tendency to control (or absenteeism) and women a higher obligation or expectation to provide for and nurture the out of wedlock child. This correlates, in a more moderate sense, to the 1950s postwar era of womanhood that provide a woman remain at home with the child while the man is absent and away working. More research may be done to stabilize this assumption, however the correlations are all present.
Single mothers therefore are often subject to abuse; this abuse may be present in the mothers’ home growing up by her own father, exposing her to correlating consequences of high risk behaviors or tendencies to become involved with an abuser herself. Both situations can lead to unwed pregnancies or divorce. A single mother who has grown up without these circumstances may still find herself subject to abuse – due to the high likelihood that she will find herself living at or below the poverty line, and often unable to access well funded education either for herself or her children, she becomes a target for manipulation of traditional gender roles.
Farber, Naomi, and Julie E. Miller-Cribbs. 2014. “Violence in the Lives of Rural, Southern, and Poor White Women.” Violence Against Women 20, no. 5: 517-538. Women’s Studies International, EBSCOhost (accessed December 3, 2016).