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Maternal employment and the well-being of children living with a lone mother in Scotland

Previous research has shown that children who do not live with both of their parents fare worse on a variety of outcomes. However, less is known about the heterogeneity of children’s socioeconomic context and the factors that contribute to the negative effect of family structure. The study enhances understanding by regarding maternal employment as a differentiating element in children’s levels of socioemotional well-being. It also recognizes that not all types of employment act in the same way, and seeks to shed light on some of the mechanisms through which maternal employment operates on children’s well-being.

It addresses the following research questions:

1) Is maternal employment beneficial to the socioemotional well-being of children living with a lone mother?

2) Does the relationship between maternal employment and child well-being vary depending on the mother’s number of hours worked, or occupational status?

3) To what extent is the relationship between maternal employment and children’s well-being mediated by household income and by maternal psychological wellbeing?

4) How does reliance on formal or informal childcare affect the relationship between maternal employment and child well-being?

This study was published on Demographic Research:

Journal article: Maternal employment and the well-being of children living with a lone mother in Scotland

Types of inequalities

The main source of inequalities analysed in this study are family structure (i.e. lone-mother households, and maternal employment (including occupational status).

Inequalities of outcomes: Socio-emotional wellbeing at age 5


The study uses longitudinal data from Growing Up in Scotland to follow a sub-sample of children living with lone mothers up to age 5. Logistic regression is used to estimate the role of maternal employment on the likelihood of showing severe socio-emotional symptoms at age 5. Methods of causal inference (Inverse Probability Weighting) and of mediation analysis (KHB decomposition method) are used to account for selection into the employment of mothers with different characteristics and to assess the mediating role of household income and maternal well-being.


Children of working lone mothers are less at risk of having severe socioemotional problems, particularly if their mothers work in medium-high occupational positions. Higher levels of household income and the greater psychological well-being of working mothers partly explain the positive effect of maternal employment.

Policy implications

Results from the study suggest that the t UK government’s emphasis on lone parents’ welfare-to-work transition should be supported by initiatives to enhance the employability of lone parents and their ability to seek and maintain work, as well as their material circumstances. Good quality, stable jobs that pay a decent income, measures of income support and funded and high-quality childcare, all have the potential to impact children’s well-being.

For further information contact Dr Francesca Fiori

Research Team

Professor Marita Jacob
Dr Francesca Fiori
Senior Research Fellow