Double disadvantage in a Nordic welfare state: a demographic analysis of the single mother employment gap in Finland, 1987–2011

Juho Härkönen, Stockholm University
Eevi Lappalainen, University of Turku
Marika Jalovaara, University of Turku

In this study, we demonstrate how an evolving educational gradient of single motherhood can interact with changing labor market conditions to shape labor market inequalities between partnered and single mothers. We analyze trends in the employment rates of partnered and single mothers in Finland from 1987 to 2011. In the late 1980s, Finnish single mothers’ employment rate was at an internationally high level and on par with that of partnered mothers. Ever since the 1990s’ economic crisis, single mothers have had a 8–10 percentage points lower employment rate than partnered mothers. During the same period, the prevalence of single motherhood increased particularly among the least educated, which meant that single mothers’ relative educational profiles have become increasingly disadvantageous. We use Chevan’s and Sutherland’s decomposition method to estimate how much of the increased gap between partnered and single mothers’ employment rates can be explained by compositional change and how much was due to employment rate differences net of compositional differences. Our findings point to an increasing double disadvantage: the gradually evolving disadvantage in educational backgrounds together with large employment rate differences among mothers with low educational attainment levels are an important explanation. These findings show how socio-demographic changes in interaction with a changing employment regime can produce inequalities by family structure also in a Nordic society known for its extensive support for mothers’ employment.

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Presented in Session 92: Single parenthood