Miller, Emily E. N., and Kathryn Edin. “Coming of Age in Appalachia, Emerging or Expedited Adulthood?.” The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 8.4 (2022): 50–67.
We examine the transition to adulthood in a poor, white, rural community in Appalachia. Young adults come of age in a context of persistent poverty, economic decline, an ongoing opioid and addiction crisis, and strong community norms about family and work bolstered by religious institutions. For low-income young adults in this community, this stage in the life course is both expedited and emerging. Marriage and childbearing are expedited, frequently occurring in late teens or early twenties. However, other adult markers—such as stable employment, pursuing education, and leaving the parental home—are often slow to emerge and are usually only tentatively achieved. This pattern is in contrast to middle-class young adults in this community.


Gold, Sarah, and Kathryn Edin. “Re-Thinking Stepfathers’ Contributions: Fathers, Stepfathers, and Child Wellbeing.” Journal of Family Issues (2021): n. pag. Print.
Using data from a contemporary cohort of children, we revisit the question of whether children benefit from being close to and engaging in activities with a stepfather. We deploy the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a birth cohort study of nearly 5000 children born in US cities in 1998–2000, with a large oversample of nonmarital births. We explore the relationships between stepfathers’ closeness and active engagement and youth’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors and school connectedness at ages 9 and 15 for between 550 and 740 children (depending on the wave) with stepfathers. We find that the emotional tenor of the relationship and level of active engagement between youth and their stepfathers are associated with reduced internalizing behaviors and higher school connectedness. Our findings suggest that stepfathers’ roles seem to have evolved in ways that are more beneficial to their adolescent stepchildren than was previously the case.


Harvey, Hope et al. “Forever Homes and Temporary Stops: How Housing Search Perceptions Shape Residential Selections.” Social Forces 98.4 (2020): 1498–1523.
Residential selection is central in determining children’s housing, neighborhood, and school contexts, and an extensive literature considers the social processes that shape residential searches and attainment. While this literature typically frames the residential search as a uniform process oriented around finding residential options with desired characteristics, we examine whether individuals may differentially conceive of these searches in ways that sustain inequality in residential attainment. Drawing on repeated, in-depth interviews with a stratified random sample of 156 households with young children in two metropolitan counties, we find that parents exhibit distinct residential search logics, informed by the constraints they face. Higher-income families usually engage in purposive searches oriented around their residential preferences. They search for “forever homes” that will meet their families’ needs for years to come. In contrast, low-income parents typically draw on a logic of deferral. While they hope to eventually search for a home with the unit, neighborhood, and school characteristics they desire, aspirations for homeownership lead them to conceive of their moves (which are often between rental units) as “temporary stops,” which justifies accepting homes that are inconsistent with their long-term preferences. In addition, because they are often “pushed” to move by negative circumstances, they focus on their immediate housing needs and, in the most extreme cases, adopt an “anywhere but here” approach. These logics constitute an unexamined mechanism through which economic resources shape residential searches and ultimate attainment.
Nelson, Timothy J., and Kathryn J. Edin. “‘Whatever They Need’ Helping Poor Children Through In-Kind Support.” Confronting Inequality: How Policies and Practices Shape Children’s Opportunities. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020. 119–140.
Fathers do not associate formal child support with "providing"; they instead view their support order as "just another bill to pay". Most fathers prefer to provide support informally—through cash contributions to the mother—or in-kind—through direct provision of goods. This is, in part, because they believe these forms of support do more to enhance the father–child bond, a theme evident in prior qualitative research. New quantitative evidence backs up these claims, although the theoretical mechanisms are not known. This chapter builds on these analyses, examining the narratives of 428 low-income, nonresident fathers to more deeply uncover processes and mechanisms that may underlie these results. It identifies key aspects of the formal system that trigger the overwhelmingly negative valence fathers have toward the program. It also identifies aspects of informal (i.e., cash directly to the mother) and in-kind support that yield positive associations with provision—of "whatever they need"—and with the father–child bond. 
Leifheit, Kathryn M. et al. “Severe Housing Insecurity During Pregnancy: Association With Adverse Birth and Infant Outcomes.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17.22 (2020): 8659–8671.
Introduction: Housing insecurity is increasingly commonplace among disadvantaged women and children. We measured the individual- and population-level impact of severe housing insecurity during pregnancy on adverse birth and infant outcomes. Methods: We analyzed data from 3428 mother–infant dyads enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a prospective cohort study representing births in 20 large U.S. cities from 1998 to 2000. Severe housing insecurity was defined as threatened eviction or homelessness during pregnancy. Outcomes included low birth weight and/or preterm birth, admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or stepdown facility, extended hospitalization after delivery, and infant health and temperament. We estimated exposure–outcome associations with risk ratios adjusted for pre-pregnancy maternal sociodemographic and heath factors and calculated a population attributable fraction (PAF) of outcomes attributable to severe housing insecurity. Results: We found statistically significant associations between severe housing insecurity during pregnancy and low birth weight and/or preterm birth (risk ratio (RR] 1.73, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.28, 2.32), NICU or stepdown stay (RR 1.64, CI 1.17, 2.31), and extended hospitalization (RR 1.66, CI 1.28, 2.16). Associations between housing insecurity and infant fair or poor health (RR 2.62, CI 0.91, 7.48) and poor temperament (RR 1.52, CI 0.98, 2.34) were not statistically significant. PAF estimates ranged from 0.9–2.7%, suggesting that up to three percent of adverse birth and infant outcomes could be avoided by eliminating severe housing insecurity among low-income, pregnant women in US cities. Conclusions: Results suggest that housing insecurity during pregnancy shapes neonatal and infant health in disadvantaged urban families.
Shaefer, H. Luke, Kathryn Edin, and Elizabeth Talbert. “Reading 26 Understanding the Dynamics of $2-A-Day Poverty in the United States.” Mapping the Social Landscape: Readings in Sociology. Vol. 1. Sage Publications, 2020. 265–278.
As the previous reading by Shapiro demonstrated, the American Dream and accumulation of wealth have been difficult to obtain for many African Americans. They also have been impossible goals for the working poor. Instead, many poor people struggle to meet the economic requirements of everyday survival. In their 2013 book, Living on $2.00 a Day, Shaefer and Edin found a large rise in “extreme poverty,” which consists of households with children living on $2.00 a day or less between 1996 and 2011. In this reading, they explore the underlying dynamics of this phenomenon using both quantitative and qualitative data. Challenging conventional thinking, they find that the majority of children who live in these households that have less than $2.00 a day often have at least one parent working. The authors of this piece are Kathryn Edin, who is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at the Zanvyl Krieger School and Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University; H. Luke Shaefer, who is an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan School of Social Work; and Elizabeth Talbert, who is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University. This powerful excerpt from their research raises many questions about how unsuccessful many US policies are not only in terms of welfare and low but also in terms of how families and children are surviving in extreme poverty. wage work,
Leifheit, Kathryn M. et al. “Eviction in Early Childhood and Neighborhood Policy.” Population Health 11 (2020): 100575. Print.
Eviction affects a substantial share of U.S. children, but its effects on child health are largely unknown. Our objectives were to examine how eviction relates to 1) children's health and sociodemographic characteristics at birth, 2) neighborhood poverty and food security at age 5, and 3) obesity in later childhood and adolescence. We analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal cohort of children born in 20 large U.S. cities. Children who lived in rental housing with known eviction histories and measured outcomes were included. We compared maternal and infant health and sociodemographic characteristics at the time of the child's birth. We then characterized the associations between eviction and neighborhood poverty and food security at age 5 and obesity at ages 5, 9, and 15 using log binomial regression with inverse probability of treatment and censoring weights. Of the 2556 children included in objective 1, 164 (6%) experienced eviction before age 5. Children who experienced eviction had lower household income and maternal education and were more likely to be born to mothers who were unmarried, smoked during pregnancy, and had mental health problems. Evicted and non-evicted children were equally likely to experience high neighborhood poverty at age 5 (prevalence ratio (PR) = 1.03, 95% CI 0.82, 1.29) but had an increased prevalence of low food security (PR = 2.16, 95% CI 1.46, 3.19). Obesity prevalence did not differ at age 5 (PR = 1.01; 95% CI 0.58, 1.75), 9 (PR = 1.08; 95% CI 0.715, 1.55); or 15 (PR = 1.05; 95% CI 0.51, 2.18). In conclusion, children who went on to experience eviction showed signs of poor health and socioeconomic disadvantage already at birth. Eviction in early childhood was not associated with children's likelihood of neighborhood poverty, suggesting that eviction may not qualitatively change children's neighborhood conditions in this disadvantaged sample. Though we saw evidence supporting an association with low child food security at age 5, we did not find eviction to be associated with obesity in later childhood and adolescence.
Shaefer, H. Luke et al. “The Decline of Cash Assistance and the Well-Being of Poor Households With Children.” Social Forces 98.3 (2020): 1000–1025. Print.
Since the early 1990s, the social safety net for families with children in the United States has undergone an epochal transformation. Aid to poor working families has become more generous. In contrast, assistance to the deeply poor has become less generous, and what remains more often takes the form of in-kind aid. A historical view finds that this dramatic change parallels others. For centuries, the nature and form of poor relief has been driven in part by shifting cultural notions of which social groups are “deserving” and “undeserving.” This line was firmly redrawn in the 1990s. Did the re-institutionalization of these categorizations in policy have material consequences? This study examines the relationship between the decline of traditional cash welfare between 2001 and 2015 and two direct measures of wellbeing among households with children: household food insecurity and public school child homelessness. Using models that control for state and year trends, along with other factors, we find that the decline of cash assistance was associated with increases in both forms of hardship.
Gold, Sarah, Kathryn Edin, and Timothy Nelson. “Does Time With Dad in Childhood Pay off in Adolescence?.” Journal of Marriage and Family 82.5 (2020): 1587–1605.

We aim to understand the association between father involvement in middle childhood and adolescent behaviors and whether the relationship differs by father residence.


Internalizing and externalizing behaviors in adolescence can trigger a cascade of negative outcomes later in life, including lower educational attainment, criminal justice involvement, and future psychological distress. Evidence, largely focusing on nonresidential fathers and older cohort, suggests that father involvement—particularly closeness and engagement—may reduce adolescents' internalizing and externalizing behaviors.


We use data six waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a birth cohort survey representative of births in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000, to estimate OLS regression models examining (a) whether father involvement in middle childhood is associated with fewer problem behaviors at Age 15, (b) if the salience of father involvement differs depending on whether the father was present in the home (i.e., was married to or living with his child's mother) in middle childhood, and (c) whether father involvement matters differently based on the child's sex.


We find protective associations between father involvement and adolescent behavioral outcomes that persist even among children who were not living with their fathers. In models stratified by the child's sex, father involvement matters for both boys and girls. In all models, father presence alone, apart from active involvement, is not significantly associated with behavioral outcomes.


Father involvement protects against negative adolescent behaviors even among children with nonresidential fathers and for both boys and girls.


These results suggest that policies that promote greater father involvement and father–child bonds, rather than other options such as promoting marriage, may be more effective in reducing behavioral problems among adolescents.


Tach, Laura et al. “’As Good As Money in the Bank’: Building a Personal Safety Net With the Earned Income Tax Credit.” Social Problems 66.2 (2019): 274–293. Print.
The public safety net has increasingly functioned as a system that rewards work, but many low-wage workers now face a double bind: unstable incomes and volatile expenses. We ask how low-wage workers make resource allocation decisions under conditions of uncertainty by examining how they spend and save their tax refunds. Using data from in-depth interviews with a sample of 115 lower-income working families, we find that more than three quarters of families experienced an income or expense shock in the past three years. Although many had aspirations for upward mobility, the insecurity of daily life meant they devoted most of their refund dollars to creating a personal safety net to cushion against income and expense shocks. What appeared to be distinct types of allocations often had the same underlying rationale goal of improving a family’s economic security in the near term. By saving, purchasing durable goods, stockpiling household staples, and paying off debts to kin and creditors at tax refund time, families leveraged their tax refund dollars into multiple forms of self-insurance. Respondents held aspirations for upward mobility that correspond strongly with those of middle-class Americans, but they did not feel they had the luxury of setting aside resources for long-term mobility goals given the instability and insecurity of their work and family lives. Instead, they invested their refunds in more precautionary ways. What might be viewed as current consumption by outsiders was actually a form of in-kind investment that occurred outside the purview of the formal banking system.
U.S. children are more likely to live apart from a biological parent than at any time in history. Although the Child Support Enforcement system has tremendous reach, its policies have not kept pace with significant economic, demographic, and cultural changes. Narrative analysis of in‐depth interviews with 429 low‐income noncustodial fathers suggests that the system faces a crisis of legitimacy. Visualization of language used to describe all forms child support show that the formal system is considered punitive and to lead to a loss of power and autonomy. Further, it is not associated with coparenting or the father–child bond—themes closely associated with informal and in‐kind support. Rather than stoking men's identities as providers, the system becomes “just another bill to pay.” Orders must be sustainable, all fathers should have coparenting agreements, and alternative forms of support should count toward fathers' obligations. Recovery of government welfare costs should be eliminated.
Edin, Kathryn et al. “The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 33.2 (2019): 211–228. Print.
In this essay, we explore how working-class men describe their attachments to work, family, and religion. We draw upon in-depth, life history interviews conducted in four metropolitan areas with racially and ethnically diverse groups of working-class men with a high school diploma but no four-year college degree. Between 2000 and 2013, we deployed heterogeneous sampling techniques in the black and white working-class neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and the Philadelphia/Camden area of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We screened to ensure that each respondent had at least one minor child, making sure to include a subset potentially subject to a child support order (because they were not married to, or living with, their child's mother). We interviewed roughly even numbers of black and white men in each site for a total of 107 respondents. Our approach allows us to explore complex questions in a rich and granular way that allows unanticipated results to emerge. These working-class men showed both a detachment from institutions and an engagement with more autonomous forms of work, childrearing, and spirituality, often with an emphasis on generativity, by which we mean a desire to guide and nurture the next generation. We also discuss the extent to which this autonomous and generative self is also a haphazard self, which may be aligned with counterproductive behaviors. And we look at racial and ethnic difference in perceptions of social standing.


Edin, Kathryn. “Child Support in the Age of Complex Famiilies.” Issues in Science and Technology 2018: n. pag. Print.
Garboden, Philip et al. Urban Landlords and the Housing Choice Voucher Program: A Research Report. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. , 2018. Print.
Garboden, Philip M. E. et al. “Taking Stock: What Drives Landlord Participation in the Housing Choice Voucher Program.” Housing Policy Debate 28.6 (2018): 979–1003. Print.
To succeed, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program must be attractive to rental property owners. When landlords refuse to accept subsidized renters, lease-up rates decline, administrative costs increase, and options become limited to high-poverty neighborhoods where owners are most desperate. This article examines what motivates landlords’ decisions to accept subsidized tenants. We use 127 interviews with a random and field sample of landlords, combined with administrative data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on property ownership in Baltimore, Maryland, Dallas, Texas, and Cleveland, Ohio. We find that landlords’ perspectives on the HCV program, including rents, tenants, and inspections, are highly dependent on context; landlords weigh the costs and benefits of program participation against the counterfactual tenant that a landlord might otherwise rent to in the open market. We argue that policymakers can boost landlord participation by better understanding how landlords think about their alternatives within each local context. Finally, we consider what drives nonparticipation in the program. Our results show that the majority of landlords who refuse voucher holders had accepted them previously. We suggest that policy reform should be dually focused on improving bureaucratic inefficiencies that deter landlord participation, and providing training and education to landlords.
Financial stability depends on emergency savings. Low-wage workers regularly experience drops in income and unexpected expenses. Households with savings absorb these financial shocks but most low-income Americans lack rainy day savings. Therefore, even a small shock, like car repairs, can result in a cascade of events that throws a low-income family into poverty. Nonetheless, existing policies address emergency savings only indirectly. However, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) already functions as an imperfect, makeshift savings tool. This lump sum refund at tax time gives workers a moment of financial slack, but many EITC recipients lack emergency reserves later in the year. By creating a “Rainy Day EITC” component of the existing EITC, policymakers can help low-wage workers build up emergency savings.
Shaefer, H. Luke et al. “A Universal Child Allowance: A Plan to REduce Poverty and Income Instability Among Children in the United States.” Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 4.2 (2018): 22–42. Print.
To reduce child poverty and income instability, and eliminate extreme poverty among families with children in the United States, we propose converting the Child Tax Credit and child tax exemption into a universal, monthly child allowance. Our proposal is based on principles we argue should undergird the design of such policies: universality, accessibility, adequate payment levels, and more generous support for young children. Whether benefits should decline with additional children to reflect economies of scale is a question policymakers should consider. Analyzing 2015 Current Population Survey data, we estimate our proposed child allowance would reduce child poverty by about 40 percent, deep child poverty by nearly half, and would effectively eliminate extreme child poverty. Annual net cost estimates range from $66 billion to $105 billion.
Bell, Monica C. et al. “Relationship Repertoires, the Price of Parenthood, and the Costs of Contraception.” Social Service Review 92.3 (2018): 313–348. Print.
Drawing on 150 in-depth interviews with African American male and female youth who have spent much of their lives in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, we explore the structural and cultural underpinnings of the elevated rate of unplanned childbearing among disadvantaged youth. We find that gender asymmetry in perceived opportunity costs, shared social meanings associated with condom use, and perceptions of health risk associated with hormonal and other female forms of birth control such as intrauterine devices—perceptions that may be rooted in a generalized distrust of the medical establishment—are promising explanations not usually considered in the literature on unintended fertility. These findings offer additional insight into how disadvantaged youth calculate the opportunity costs of childbearing and raise additional considerations for policies surrounding family planning and reproduction in the context of urban poverty.


Edin, Kathryn, H. Luke Shaefer, and Laura Tach. “A New Anti-Poverty Litmus Test.” Pathways 2017: n. pag. Print.
Shaefer, H. Luke, Pinghui Wu, and Kathryn Edin. “Can Poverty in America Be Compared to Conditions in the World’s Poorest Countries?.” American Journal of Medical Research 4.1 (2017): 84–92. Print.
Some contend that the American poor are affluent by international standards, and recent survey evidence finds that Americans have deeply divided views about the conditions faced by the poor in this country. To what extent can poverty in the United States be compared to conditions in the world’s poorest nations? Few analysts have examined this question beyond “instrumental” measures of poverty such as income and consumption that only indirectly capture well-being. The current paper compares world statistics with available U.S. evidence to examine this question based on four direct indicators of wellbeing: 1) life expectancy; 2) infant mortality; 3) risk of homicide, and 4) risk of incarceration. By these metrics, well-being is highly stratified in the U.S. by income, education, and race. In 2008, life expectancy for low-educated African American males was equivalent to that observed in Pakistan, Bhutan, and Mongolia. In 2011, the infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic African Americans ranked below that of Tonga and Grenada. In 2012, cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 200,000 and poverty rates above 25% had an average homicide rate that would make them the 19th deadliest place in the world. In 2010, the incarceration rate for African American males was 4,347 per 100,000 of the national population, which has no international comparison. Consistent across all four indicators, among Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder, quality of life looks similar to what is experienced in countries with per-capita economic output that is a small fraction of that in the U.S.


DeLuca, Stefanie, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin. Coming of Age in the Other America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016. Print.

Coming of Age in the Other America illuminates the profound effects of neighborhoods on impoverished families. The authors conducted in-depth interviews and fieldwork with 150 young adults, and found that those who had been able to move to better neighborhoods—either as part of the Moving to Opportunity program or by other means—achieved much higher rates of high school completion and college enrollment than their parents. About half the youth surveyed reported being motivated by an “identity project”—or a strong passion such as music, art, or a dream job—to finish school and build a career.

Winner of the 2017 William T. Goode Distinguished Book Award from the Family Section of the American Sociological Association


Sykes, Jennifer et al. “Dignity and Dreams: What the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Means to Low-Income Families.” American Sociological Review 80.2 (2015): 243–267. Print.
Money has meaning that shapes its uses and social significance, including the monies low-income families draw on for survival: wages, welfare, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This study, based on in-depth interviews with 115 low-wage EITC recipients, reveals the EITC is an unusual type of government transfer. Recipients of the EITC say they value the debt relief this government benefit brings. However, they also perceive it as a just reward for work, which legitimizes a temporary increase in consumption. Furthermore, unlike other means-tested government transfers, the credit is seen as a springboard for upward mobility. Thus, by conferring dignity and spurring dreams, the EITC enhances feelings of citizenship and social inclusion.
Buher-Kane, Jennifer. “How Much In-Kind Support Do Low-Income Nonresident Fathers Provide? A Mixed-Method Analysis.” Journal of Marriage and Family 77.3 (2015): 591–611. Print.

Past child support research has largely focused on cash payments made through the courts (formal support) or given directly to the mother (informal support) almost to the exclusion of a third type: non‐cash goods (in‐kind support). Drawing on repeated, semistructured interviews with nearly 400 low‐income noncustodial fathers, the authors found that in‐kind support constitutes about one quarter of total support. Children in receipt of some in‐kind support receive, on average, $60 per month worth of goods. Multilevel regression analyses demonstrated that children who are younger and have more hours of visitation as well as those whose father has a high school education and no current substance abuse problem receive in‐kind support of greater value. Yet children whose fathers lack stable employment or are Black receive a greater proportion of their total support in kind. A subsequent qualitative analysis revealed that fathers' logic for providing in‐kind support is primarily relational and not financial.
Shaefer, H. Luke, Kathryn Edin, and Elizabeth Talbert. “Understanding the Dynamics of $2-a-Day Poverty in the United States.” The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 1.1 (2015): 120–138. Print.
Shaefer and Edin (2013) have found a large rise in “extreme poverty”—defined as cash income of no more than $2 per person per day, for a month or calendar quarter—among U.S. households with children between 1996 and 2011. This article explores some underlying dynamics of this phenomenon, referred to here as “$2-a-day poverty,” presenting evidence from both qualitative fieldwork and quantitative analysis of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The rise in $2-a-day poverty has been concentrated among children experiencing it chronically—that is, for seven or more months during a calendar year. Both qualitative and quantitative evidence find that a large majority of children experiencing $2-a-day poverty live in households where an adult worked during the year, while only a small proportion live in households accessing TANF. Finally, households experiencing $2-a-day poverty appear to be more likely to face material hardships than other low-income households.
Halpern-Meekin, Sarah et al. It’s Not Like I’m Poor: How Low Income Parents Make Ends Meet in a Post Welfare World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. Print.
The world of welfare has changed radically. As the poor trade welfare checks for low-wage jobs, their low earnings qualify them for a hefty check come tax time—a combination of the earned income tax credit and other refunds. For many working parents this one check is like hitting the lottery, offering several months’ wages as well as the hope of investing in a better future. Drawing on interviews with 115 families, the authors look at how parents plan to use this annual cash windfall to build up savings, go back to school, and send their kids to college. However, these dreams of upward mobility are often dashed by the difficulty of trying to get by on meager wages. In accessible and engaging prose, It’s Not Like I’m Poor examines the costs and benefits of the new work-based safety net, suggesting ways to augment its strengths so that more of the working poor can realize the promise of a middle-class life.
Edin, Kathryn, and H. Luke Shaefer. $2 a Day: Living on Nothing in America. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. Print.

The authors illuminate a troubling trend: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. More than a powerful exposé, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality. 

Sidney Hillman Award for Book Journalism
Society for Social Work and Research Book Award
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards Shortlist


Shaefer, H. Luke, and Kathryn Edin. “The Rise in Extreme Poverty in the United States.” Pathways 2014: n. pag. Print.
Edin, Kathryn. “What About the Fathers?.” The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink 2014: n. pag. Print.
Tach, Laura et al. “The Family-Go-Round: Family Complexity and Father Invevolvement from a Father’s Perspective.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 654.1 (2014): 169–184. Print.
Men who have children with several partners are often assumed to be “deadbeats” who eschew their responsibilities to their children. Using data from the nationally representative National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort (NLSY-97), we show that most men in complex families intensively parent the children of one mother while being less involved, or not involved at all, with children by others. Repeated qualitative interviews with 110 low-income noncustodial fathers reveal that men in complex families often engage with and provide, at least to some degree, for all of the biological and stepchildren who live in one mother’s household. These activities often exceed those extended to biological children living elsewhere. Interviews also show that by devoting most or all of their resources to the children of just one mother, men in complex families feel successful as fathers even if they are not intensively involved with their other biological children.
Edin, Kathryn. “The Diverging Destinies of Fathers and What It Means for Children’s Lives.” Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality. Vol. 5. N.p., 2014. 51–60. Print.
There is a growing social class divide in the American family. While the most-educated couples are enjoying greater stability in family life than in previous decades, the opposite is true for those at the bottom of the distribution. For men, in particular, the least educated are more likely to become fathers in their early twenties, to have children outside of a marital bond with more than one partner, and to live apart from them. Interviews with low-income black and white fathers in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ reveal several important factors about this process. First, there is little partner search or selectivity regarding the woman who will become his child’s mother. Second, pregnancies happen quickly in the relationship and are by and large not intended, though not avoided either. Third, news of a pregnancy is usually greeted with enthusiasm and sparks a “fatherhood thirst” which leads to the attempt to solidify the couple’s relationship “for the sake of the baby.” Yet because of the fragility of the couple’s bond, the relationships rarely survive until the child turns five, and men find it increasingly hard to stay in contact with the child once the relationship ends. The fatherhood thirst remains unsatisfied, which may drive further childbearing with a new partner. Understanding this dynamic suggests several points of intervention for policymakers. First, we should do more to reduce early and unplanned childbearing among young men, targeting key features of the relationship formation process that lead to such outcomes. Second, in keeping with efforts of on-the-ground programs associated with the “responsible fatherhood movement,” policymakers should do more to keep unmarried fathers connected with children, including assuring that those who pay child support have a visitation agreement that is enforced. Policy should clearly signal that fathers’ potential contribution as parents, not just as paychecks, is valued.


Edin, Kathryn et al. SNAP Food Security In-Depth Interview Study: Final Report. Office of Research and Analysis, Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2013. Print.
Turney, Kristin, Rebecca Kissane, and Kathryn Edin. “After Moving to Opportunity: How Moving to a Low Poverty Neighborhood Improves Mental Health Among African-American Women.” Society and Mental Health 3 (2013): 1–21. Print.
A large body of nonexperimental literature finds residing in a disadvantaged neighborhood is deleterious for mental health, and recent evidence from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program—a social experiment giving families living in high-poverty neighborhoods the opportunity to move to low-poverty neighborhoods—suggests a causal effect of moving to a low-poverty neighborhood on adult mental health. We use qualitative data from 67 Baltimore adults who signed up for the MTO program to understand how moving to a low-poverty neighborhood produced these mental health benefits. First, we document the vast array of mental health challenges, traumatic experiences, and stressors reported by both experimentals (those who received a housing voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood) and controls (those who did not receive a voucher). We then explore how changes in the physical and social environments may have produced mental health benefits for experimentals. In particular, experimentals reported the following: improved neighborhood and home aesthetics, greater neighborhood collective efficacy and pride, less violence and criminal activity, and better environments for raising children. Notably, we also document increased sources of stress among experimentals, mostly associated with moving, making the positive effects of MTO on adult mental health all the more remarkable. These findings have important implications for both researchers and policymakers.
Shaefer, H. Luke, and Kathryn Edin. “Rising Extreme Poverty in the United STates and the Response of Federal Means-Tested Transfer Programs.” Social Service Review 8.2 (2013): 250–268. Print.
This study documents an increase in the prevalence of extreme poverty among US households with children between 1996 and 2011 and assesses the response of major federal means-tested transfer programs. Extreme poverty is defined using a World Bank metric of global poverty: $2 or less, per person, per day. Using the 1996–2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), we estimate that in mid-2011, 1.65 million households with 3.55 million children were living in extreme poverty in a given month, based on cash income, constituting 4.3 percent of all nonelderly households with children. The prevalence of extreme poverty has risen sharply since 1996, particularly among those most affected by the 1996 welfare reform. Adding SNAP benefits to household income reduces the number of extremely poor households with children by 48.0 percent in mid-2011. Adding SNAP, refundable tax credits, and housing subsidies reduces it by 62.8 percent.
Tach, Laura, and Kathryn Edin. “The Compositional and Institutional Sources of Union Dissolution for Married and Unmarried Parents in the United States.” Demography 50.5 (2013): 1789–1818. Print.
Unmarried parents have less stable unions than married parents, but there is considerable debate over the sources of this instability. Unmarried parents may be more likely than married parents to end their unions because of compositional differences, such as more disadvantaged personal and relationship characteristics, or because they lack the normative and institutional supports of marriage, thus rendering their relationships more sensitive to disadvantage. In this article, we evaluate these two sources of union instability among married, cohabiting, and dating parents following the birth of a shared child, using five waves of longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Using discrete-time event history models, we find that demographic, economic, and relationship differences explain more than two-thirds of the increased risk of dissolution for unmarried parents relative to married parents. We also find that differential responses to economic or relationship disadvantage do not explain why unmarried parents are more likely to end their unions than married parents.
Edin, Kathryn, and Timothy Nelson. Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. Print.
Across the political spectrum, unwed fatherhood is denounced as one of the leading social problems of today. Doing the Best I Can is a strikingly rich, paradigm-shifting look at fatherhood among inner-city men often dismissed as “deadbeat dads.” Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson examine how couples in challenging straits come together and get pregnant so quickly—without planning. The authors chronicle the high hopes for forging lasting family bonds that pregnancy inspires, and pinpoint the fatal flaws that often lead to the relationship’s demise. They offer keen insight into a radical redefinition of family life where the father-child bond is central and parental ties are peripheral.

Drawing on years of fieldwork, Doing the Best I Can shows how mammoth economic and cultural changes have transformed the meaning of fatherhood among the urban poor. Intimate interviews with more than 100 fathers make real the significant obstacles faced by low-income men at every step in the familial process: from the difficulties of romantic relationships, to decision-making dilemmas at conception, to the often celebratory moment of birth, and finally to the hardships that accompany the early years of the child's life, and beyond.


Mendenhall, Ruby et al. “The Role of the Earned Income Tax Credit in the Budgets of Low-Income Families.” Social Service Review 86.3 (2012): 367–400. Print.
The annual receipt of large tax refunds, primarily due to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), provides households with unusual opportunities to pay old bills and build assets. To examine these opportunities, the study surveys 194 black, Latino, and white parents who received EITC refunds of at least $1,000; in-depth interviews followed 6 months later. The majority of households (57 percent) report that they planned to allocate a considerable portion of their refund to savings, and 39 percent are estimated to accomplish their goal. Although 72 percent of the sample planned to pay bills and debt with the refund, 84 percent are found to do so. The results also suggest that households often readjust planned allocations to meet emergencies, debt, and bills. Despite setbacks, many recipients have significant asset accumulation goals, which they say are fueled by the expectation of ongoing annual tax refunds.
Edin, Kathryn, Stefanie DeLuca, and Ann Owens. “Constrained Compliance: Solving the Mystery of MTO Lease-Up Rates and Why Movility Matters.” Cityscape 14.2 (2012): 181–194. Print.
The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing demonstration provided an opportunity for low-income renters to move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Many of these renters, however, did not move with their vouchers, and many of those who moved did not stay in low-poverty neighborhoods. In this article, we explore the mechanisms behind these residential outcomes and what they mean for housing policy. First, we review evidence suggesting that MTO families wanted to live in low-poverty “opportunity areas.” We then describe how some aspects of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the structural features of the housing market, and the beliefs and coping mechanisms of low-income renters—shaped by years of living in extreme poverty—prevented these families from achieving their goals of residential mobility. Finally, we consider the negative consequences on the life chances of the poor if housing policy does not address constraints to mobility and identify potential policy solutions that might lead to opportunities for low-income renters to live in low-poverty neighborhoods.


Tach, Laura, and Kathryn Edin. “Young Disadvantaged Men As Partners.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 635.1 (2011): 76–94. Print.
Recent improvements in data collection offer unprecedented insight into the romantic partnerships of disadvantaged men, revealing higher levels of instability, complexity, and commitment than previously understood. Young disadvantaged men are often involved in casual romantic relationships that result in pregnancy. When this occurs, most men remain involved with the mother, are optimistic about the future of their relationships, and are committed to their children. Economic disadvantage, incarceration, conflict, and mistrust undermine the stability of these relationships, however, and most end within several years after the birth. New romantic relationships begin shortly thereafter, creating complex family structures. We know less about the patterns of interaction between couples that produce unstable partnerships or about the nature of romantic relationships that do not involve children. With our growing understanding of the presence of fathers in nonmarital households, policy-makers must adapt their policies to support, rather than undermine, these fragile unions.
Clampet-Lundquist, Susan et al. “Moving Teenagers Out of High Risk Neighborhoods: How Girls Fare Better Than Boys.” American Journal of Sociology 116.4 (2011): 1154–1189. Print.
Moving to Opportunity (MTO) offered public housing residents the opportunity to move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Several years later, boys in the experimental group fared no better on measures of risk behavior than their control group counterparts, whereas girls in the experimental group engaged in lower-risk behavior than control group girls. The authors explore these differences by analyzing data from in-depth interviews conducted with 86 teens in Baltimore and Chicago. They find that daily routines, fitting in with neighborhood norms, neighborhood navigation strategies, interactions with peers, friendship making, and distance from father figures may contribute to how girls who moved via MTO benefited more than boys.


Edin, Kathryn, and Rebecca Kissane. “Poverty and the Family: A Decade in Review.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72.3 (2010): 460–479. Print.
Because of dramatic levels of economic volatility and massive changes in welfare policies, scholars in this decade worried anew about whether our official poverty measure, adopted in the 1960s, is adequate. Poverty's causes continued to be debated, with demographic factors often pitted against policy and maternal employment changes. Some scholars focused on events that trigger spirals into poverty or poverty exits. The literature on consequences of poverty featured new techniques for identifying underlying processes and mechanisms. Researchers also explored “neighborhood effects” and focused on poverty deconcentration efforts. Finally, scholars produced a voluminous literature on the efforts to reform welfare and their subsequent effects.


Edin, Kathryn, Laura Tach, and Ronald Mincy. “Claiming Fatherhood: Race and the Dynamics of Father Involvement Among Unmarried Men.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621.1 (2009): 149–177. Print.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the black family was nearing “complete breakdown” due to high rates of out-of-wedlock childbearing. In subsequent decades, nonmarital childbearing rose dramatically for all racial groups and unwed fathers were often portrayed as being absent from their children’s lives. The authors examine contemporary nonmarital father involvement using quantitative evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and qualitative evidence from in-depth interviews with 150 unmarried fathers. The authors find that father involvement drops sharply after parents’ relationships end, especially when they enter subsequent relationships and have children with new partners. These declines are less dramatic for African American fathers, suggesting that fathers’ roles outside of conjugal relationships may be more strongly institutionalized in the black community. The challenges Moynihan described among black families some forty years ago now extend to a significant minority of all American children.
Tach, Laura, Ronald Mincy, and Kathryn Edin. “Parenting As a Package Deal: Child Involvement Among Unmarried Fathers.” Demography 47.1 (2009): 181–204. Print.
Fatherhood has traditionally been viewed as part of a “package deal” in which a father’s relationship with his child is contingent on his relationship with the mother. We evaluate the accuracy of this hypothesis in light of the high rates of multiple-partner fertility among unmarried parents using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a recent longitudinal survey of nonmarital births in large cities. We examine whether unmarried mothers’ and fathers’ subsequent relationship and parenting transitions are associated with declines in fathers’ contact with their nonresident biological children. We find that father involvement drops sharply after relationships between unmarried parents end. Mothers’ transitions into new romantic partnerships and new parenting roles are associated with larger declines in involvement than fathers’ transitions. Declines in fathers’ involvement following a mother’s relationship or parenting transition are largest when children are young. We discuss the implications of our results for the well-being of nonmarital children and the quality of nonmarital relationships faced with high levels of relationship instability and multiple-partner fertiliy.
Augustine, Jennifer, Timothy J. Nelson, and Kathryn Edin. “Low Income Non-Custodial Men’s Role in Fertility Decisions.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 624.1 (2009): 99–117. Print.
Over the past several decades, nonmarital childbearing rates have risen sharply, especially among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Recent research suggests that disadvantaged Americans may defer or delay marriage in part because of perceived economic barriers. Yet, childbearing is also costly. Few studies have examined low-income parents’ motivations for having children in a context of socioeconomic disadvantage. This study deploys qualitative data drawn from repeated, in-depth interviews with a heterogeneous sample of low-income, noncustodial fathers (N = 171) in which men describe in rich detail the circumstances surrounding the conceptions of each of their children and characterize their fertility intentions. The authors find that “planned” and “unplanned” pregnancies are at either end of a continuum of intentionality and that the vast majority of pregnancies are in intermediate categories along that continuum.

This paper examines mobility in the Gautreaux Two Housing Mobility Program, which attempted to alleviate poverty concentration by offering vouchers to residents of highly distressed Chicago public housing developments. In contrast to the original Gautreaux program, placement moves in Gautreaux Two have proven far less durable – most families quickly moved on from their placement neighborhoods to neighborhoods that were quite poor and very racially segregated.

Based on in-depth interviews with 58 Gautreaux Two participants and their children, we find that the primary factors motivating secondary moves included substandard unit quality and hassles with landlords. Other factors included feelings of social isolation due to poor integration into the new neighborhood, distance from kin, transportation difficulties, children's negative reaction to the new neighborhood, and financial difficulties. Policy implications include the need for further pre- and post-move housing counseling for families in mobility programs.


England, Paula, and Kathryn Edin. Unmarried Couples With Children. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007. Print.

Today, a third of American children are born outside of marriage, up from one child in twenty in the 1950s, and rates are even higher among low-income Americans. Many herald this trend as one of the most troubling of our time. But the decline in marriage does not necessarily signal the demise of the two parent family—over 80 percent of unmarried couples are still romantically involved when their child is born and nearly half are living together. Most claim they plan to marry eventually. Yet half have broken up by their child's third birthday. What keeps some couples together and what tears others apart? After a breakup, how do fathers so often disappear from their children's lives?

An intimate portrait of the challenges of partnering and parenting in these families, Unmarried Couples with Children presents a variety of unique findings. Most of the pregnancies were not explicitly planned, but some couples feel having a child is the natural course of a serious relationship. Many of the parents are living with their child plus the mother’s child from a previous relationship. When the father also has children from a previous relationship, his visits to see them at their mother’s house often cause his current partner to be jealous. Breakups are more often driven by sexual infidelity or conflict than economic problems. After couples break up, many fathers complain they are shut out, especially when the mother has a new partner. For their part, mothers claim to limit dads’ access to their children because of their involvement with crime, drugs, or other dangers. For couples living together with their child several years after the birth, marriage remains an aspiration, but something couples are resolutely unwilling to enter without the financial stability they see as a sine qua non of marriage. They also hold marriage to a high relational standard, and not enough emotional attention from their partners is women’s number one complaint.

Unmarried Couples with Children is a landmark study of the family lives of nearly fifty American children born outside of a marital union at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Based on personal narratives gathered from both mothers and fathers over the first four years of their children’s lives, and told partly in the couples' own words, the story begins before the child is conceived, takes the reader through the tumultuous months of pregnancy to the moment of birth, and on through the child's fourth birthday. It captures in rich detail the complex relationship dynamics and powerful social forces that derail the plans of so many unmarried parents. The volume injects some much-needed reality into the national discussion about family values, and reveals that the issues are more complex than our political discourse suggests.


Turney, Kristin et al. “Neighborhood Effects on Barriers to Employment: Results from a Randomized Housing Mobility Experiment in Baltimore.” Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs (2006): 137–187. Print.
Moving the poor out of inner-city neighborhoods of concentrated poverty (where jobs are scarce), and into low-poverty suburban neighborhoods (where jobs may be more plentiful) has been suggested by Wilson's (1987) theory of social isolation and Kain's (1968) theory of spatial mismatch to lead employment and earnings. Between 1994 and 1997, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched the Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration Program (MTO) in an attempt to examine the effects of housing mobility on various factors including economic self sufficiency. The MTO demonstration gave families living in distressed public housing in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York the oppor tunity to relocate to private market housing in low-poverty suburban and city neighborhoods. MTO applicants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: an experimental group, with members receiving a voucher to be used in a census tract with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent; a Section 8 group,1 with members receiving a voucher to move anywhere; or a control group. In 2002 all participating families, regardless of their MTO start date, were sur veyed. Pooling data from all five cities, a recent study finds no significant effects on employment or earnings of adults in the experimental group, suggest ing that receiving a voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood does not increase the economic self-sufficiency of poor families.2 In this paper we use data from an embedded in-depth qualitative study of MTO families in Baltimore to explore the social processes that might underlie these results. We present survey data from Baltimore that estimate the effect of the MTO vouchers on employment and earnings of adults, compared with the results from all five MTO cities. The difference in employment rates for the experimental and control groups is positive and of moderately large magnitude in Baltimore (larger than in the five cities combined), but statistically insignif icant. The experimental group in Baltimore had lower average earnings than the control group. The lack of a large positive effect on employment and earn ings is puzzling. In 2003 and 2004 we conducted in-depth interviews with a random sample drawn from all the Baltimore MTO families. Although the qualitative sample is relatively small, the in-depth nature of the data allows us to derive hypotheses that can be used to guide further qualitative work and the next round of survey work with the MTO population, scheduled for 2007. We find that though experiment?is and controls have similar rates of employment and earnings, both at the time of the survey (2002) and qualita tive interview (2003-04), the nature of respondents' relationship to the labor force does differ by program group, at least in the qualitative sample. Addi tionally, we identify three barriers to employment that are common across pro gram groups. Using these data, we generate hypotheses about why the MTO intervention may not have as strong an effect on the employment or earnings of Baltimore participants as originally projected. First, many of the MTO experiment?is had significant human capital barriers?including lack of adequate education and work experience, as well as mental and physical health problems?before moving to a low-poverty neighborhood. The MTO demonstration was not designed to address these deficits. In addition, employed respondents in both groups are heavily concen trated in retail and health care jobs. To get and keep jobs, many of these respon dents relied heavily on a particular job search strategy?informal referrals from weak social ties (work contacts, acquaintances, or casual associates) who already held entry-level jobs in these sectors. Though experiment?is were more likely to have employed neighbors, few of their neighbors held jobs in these sectors and therefore were not providing such referrals. Controls have fewer employed neighbors overall, but they were more likely to come across these useful weak ties in the course of their daily routines. Finally, the configuration of the Baltimore metropolitan area's public transportation routes in relation ship to the locations of most jobs, in particular hospitals and nursing homes, posed special transportation challenges for experimentals as they searched for employment or tried to retain their jobs.


Edin, Kathryn, and Maria J. Kefalas. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2005. Print.
Millie Acevedo bore her first child before the age of 16 and dropped out of high school to care for her newborn. Now 27, she is the unmarried mother of three and is raising her kids in one of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods. Would she and her children be better off if she had waited to have them and had married their father first? Why do so many poor American youth like Millie continue to have children before they can afford to take care of them?

Over a span of five years, sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas talked in-depth with 162 low-income single moms like Millie to learn how they think about marriage and family. Promises I Can Keep offers an intimate look at what marriage and motherhood mean to these women and provides the most extensive on-the-ground study to date of why they put children before marriage despite the daunting challenges they know lie ahead.
Gibson-Davis, Christina, Kathryn Edin, and Sara McLanahan. “High Hopes But Even Higher Expectations: The Retreat from Marriage Among Low-Income Couples.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67.5 (2005): 1301–1312. Print.
This study examines why low‐income, unmarried parents who say that they plan to marry at the time their child is born do not follow through on their plans. We use data from a nationally representative birth cohort survey—the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study ( N =3,710)—combined with data from an embedded qualitative study—Time, Love, Cash, Caring, and Children ( n =47)—to explore the reasons behind this apparent discrepancy. We find that some of the difference between parents’ expectations and behavior may be because of the overstatement of intentions at the time of the birth. Most of the discrepancy, however, results from parents’ perceived social and economic barriers to marriage. Specifically, unmarried parents have a long list of financial and relationship prerequisites they believe must be met in order for them to wed. Combined with other factors, these standards lead to an indeterminate delay in marriage.