Document Type

Occasional Paper

Publication Date



Through the 1980s, the Massachusetts economy grew rapidly. Most Massachusetts families benefited from this economic boom, and saw their incomes rise much more rapidly than the U.S. average. But Massachusetts single mothers and their children, who started out with lower incomes than other families, experienced only minimal income growth, and fell further behind other families in the Bay State. In this paper, we analyze income differences among family types in Massachusetts. We pay special attention to the problems of single mothers, and offer a set of policy recommendations to address these problems.

In order to undertake this analysis, we classify Massachusetts families into six types based on the presence of children, number of adults and gender and age (if 65 or older) of the head. We also break down each family's income into four categories: earnings, property income, alimony/child support, and government transfers. In order to provide a fair comparison of incomes for families of different sizes, we adjust income for family size, terming the result "adjusted" income. We compare data from 1987, the peak of the Massachusetts "miracle" to that of 1979, the height of the preceding economic expansion.

Our findings show that single-mother families' incomes fell behind those of all other family types during the expansion in the 1980s, which bodes poorly for their position during the recession. The reasons why income in single-mothers families did not improve much relative to others is that they are severely limited in the degree to which they can improve their sources of income. Current policy has hindered rather than promoted these families' ability to improve their incomes.


One of a series of occasional papers on issues deemed worthy of further public attention, published as events warrant by the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.



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