Effective Policies for Single-Parent Families and Prospects for Policy Reforms in the United States: Concluding Reflections

AuthorJanet C. Gornick,Laurie C. Maldonado,Amanda Sheely
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterSummative Commentaries
236 ANNALS, AAPSS, 702, July 2022
DOI: 10.1177/00027162221133682
Policies for
Families and
Prospects for
Policy Reforms
in the United
This conclusion engages two questions catalyzed by the
articles in this volume. First, which policies are effective in
reducing economic hardship among single-parent families
overall and minimizing disparities across subgroups?
Second, what are the prospects for related reforms in the
United States? We draw four lessons from the articles in
this volume and from prior research about effective policy
design: (1) work-family reconciliation policies are crucial;
(2) strengthening and stabilizing employment is necessary,
but not sufficient; (3) it is important to support the accu-
mulation of wealth in addition to shoring up income; and
(4) policies can be designed to include and protect those
single parents and their children who are especially at risk.
Turning to the feasibility of policy change in the United
States, we conclude that some factors—especially policy
elements that encourage self-reliance, shifting public
opinion, the COVID-19 crisis, and federalism itself—may
enhance opportunities for policy development in support
of single parents.
Keywords: Single-parent families, U.S. policy, high-
income countries, economic wellbeing,
During the course of producing this vol-
ume, as our editorial team absorbed the
many rich empirical findings reported in the
articles in this collection, we simultaneously
reflected on two sets of questions:
Janet C. Gornick is Professor of Political Science and
Sociology, Director of the Stone Center, and James M.
and Cathleen D. Stone Distinguished Chair in Socio-
Economic Inequality, at the Graduate Center of the
City University of New York. Most of her research is
comparative and concerns social welfare policies and
their impact on gender disparities in the labor market
and/or on income inequality. She is co-author or co-
editor of four books: Families That Work: Policies for
Reconciling Parenthood and Employment (Russell Sage
Foundation, 2003), Gender Equality: Transforming
Family Divisions of Labor (Verso Press, 2009), Income
Inequality: Economic Disparities and the Middle Class
in Affluent Countries (Stanford University Press, 2013),
and Measuring Distribution and Mobility of Income
and Wealth (University of Chicago Press, 2022).
Correspondence: jgornick@gc.cuny.edu
What works? What lessons might we draw about the effects of public
policies on the economic security, material well-being, and quality of life of
single-parent families in high-income countries?
What are the prospects for related policy reforms in the United
States, a country famously skeptical of extensive social policy? Is
there reason to hope, or expect, that some of the demonstrably effective
policy designs addressed in this volume might be implemented in the
United States?
In the following section, we turn to the question, What works? We briefly high-
light major findings, and themes, considering these articles as a collection. Here,
we focus our attention on four lessons that concern the effects of policies on the
lives of single-parent families, especially highlighting conclusions drawn from the
cross-national contributions.
Subsequently, we reflect on a related but different question that will surely be
on the minds of many of our readers: What are the prospects for policy
reform in the United States? Is there reason to hope, or expect, that the les-
sons that emerge in this volume—especially about policies that improve out-
comes in single-parent families—might find their way into U.S. policy terrain?
Although these two questions—which policies seem to lead to desired goals,
and what the prospects are for policy adoption in the United States—are related,
we see them as distinct. The late Erik Olin Wright argued that, when assessing
policy designs, it is analytically useful to distinguish between questions of viabil-
ity (these consider whether, if implemented, policies would generate the desired/
intended consequences) and those related to political achievability (these
address the “practical work of strategies for social change”) (Gornick, Meyers,
and Wright 2009). It is important to emphasize that the articles included in this
Laurie C. Maldonado is Assistant Professor of Social Work at Molloy University and Lecturer
at Columbia University School of Social Work. Her work on single-parent families, poverty,
and social policy has been published in Community, Work, and Family, Oxford Bibliographies
in Sociology, Handbook of Research on In-Work Poverty, and Handbook of Family Policy. She
has co-edited a book on single-parent families in cross-national contexts, The Triple Bind of
Single-Parent Families: Resources, Employment and Policies to Improve Wellbeing (Bristol
Press, 2018).
Amanda Sheely is Associate Professor of International Social and Public Policy at the London
School of Economics & Political Science. At LSE, she is affiliated with International Inequalities
Institute, the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, and the Phelan US Centre. Her work
examines state supervision of poor families, with a focus on single mother families in the United
States. She has published in Policy Studies Journal, Crime & Delinquency, Social Science &
Medicine, and Punishment & Society.
NOTE: We would like to thank the Phelan US Centre, at the London School of Economics
and Political Science, for providing funding for the conference that inspired this volume. We
are grateful to many of the volume’s authors for participating in an internal peer review of the
contributions. We thank our research assistants Isolde Hegemann and Joanna Dihn. Thank you
to Thomas Kecskemethy and his colleagues at The Annals for shepherding this volume to

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