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Growing Inequality in the Economic Circumstances

Topic: Growing Inequality in the Economic Circumstances of America's Children Who Are Raised In Single Parent Households

Though the article under critique “Poverty and Inequality among Children” by Daniel T. Lichter (1997) does not only focus on single parent households as a primary reason for growing inequality in the economic well-being of American children; however it also takes into account many other variables that affect children’s economic well-being. Let’s analyze different aspects of this research article to have a deep look into it.

Independent and Dependent Variables and their Relationship:

Children poverty (children poverty rate in America) is the dependent variable in this study which, according to the writer, depends upon many factors. It totally depends upon one’s standard of comparison and will be decided according to the selected independent variables. Let’s have a look at the independent variables of the study.

Lichter while talking about children poverty and inequality talked about single parent households in relation to three factors.  Thus the main independent variable is single parent households which is studied in relation to three factors identified as three main reasons of children poverty in America. These three factors can be categorized as three independent variables of the study. These three independent variables are “changes in family structure, changing patterns of employment and earnings, and changes in public assistance”; the major independent variable being changed family structure in which the main focus is on single parent households and how changing working patterns and changing public assistance is affecting single parent households.  

Selection of Independent Variables:

Since the study takes a comparison perspective thus the independent variables are selected on these lines. The variables: family structure, employment patterns and public assistance, are selected after a comparative analysis of several factors.  The writer compared several other factors from international, historical, and demographic perspectives to see how child poverty rate in America is affected; these factors which lead to the selection of independent variables are discussed below.

First factor in this regard is whether a state is market-oriented or a social democratic welfare state. This factor is said to have an impact on child’s poverty and the child poverty rate will be decided depending upon whether the state is more market oriented or social. Within this dimension, a comparison is made between children poverty rate and the fact that whether the family is female-headed. Furthermore, within same comparison perspective public transfer income’s effect is studied on poverty rate of children in the given state. To elaborate it even further it is studied that what effects low earnings and low transfer incomes has on poverty rate and its effect if the family is female-headed.  Secondly, the effect on children poverty if the state used a means-tested welfare program or a Universalist social insurance programs is studied. This comparison of children poverty in America with other Western industrialized states, when studied on the bases of whether the family is single parent or not, showed striking differences in poverty rates of different states. Even the states having higher number of unmarried child-bearing couples have lower children poverty rate (Smeeding et al, 1988); this makes ‘single parent households’ a weak independent variable.   

Second factor from same comparison perspective is selected as ‘time’. The study takes into account several dimensions to study today’s poverty rate and compare it with past population. This facilitates the comparison of child poverty rate today with what it was years back. This comparison engulfs many other perspectives including income decline from past and present, rich and poor gap, welfare income dependency, changing family structures, age inequality, living conditions gap, changed consumption patterns and growing chronic poverty in today’s population; where all these factors stand as independent variables having drastic impacts on children poverty rate today.

Third factor from same comparison perspective is selected as ‘racial or ethnic differences’. Though these differences are independent but they do have a great impact on deciding poverty rate of American children. Poverty and prosperity rates are studied on different levels depending upon

·         economic inequality among population

·         rich and poor people

·         education – educated and less educated

·         job skills

·         family structure - married-couple families and single-parent families

·         migrations - native-borns and immigrants

·         work patterns among women in single-parent and married-couple pattern

·         urban sprawl - city dwellers and suburbanites

·         welfare assistance from government

and then the comparisons are made with racial and ethnic background of the population to know its impact on children poverty rate.

Unit of analysis (Population being studied):

In this study, the researcher has taken American children as population to study growing economic inequality and poverty. The reason of selecting this unit of analysis is the motive to identify what factors are contributing towards diminished economic future of America so that proper remedial steps could be taken so as to ensure a bright and economically strong society. The fact that “today’s poor children will become the future poor adults” made the bases for this study and an effort is made to identify the major reasons of inequality and poverty among children.

Critical Analysis of Research Design and Methodology used in this Study:

For this study the researcher has relied on secondary data which was collected via quantitative research thus the research design followed by the researcher is also quantitative. However as quoted by Miles & Huberman (1994) that Donald Campbell once said that "All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding” due to the fact that they need to be interpreted according to the needs of the study. Thus even after using secondary data collected through quantitative means Lichter has to somehow apply qualitative methods to interpret the data according to the needs of this study.

Second point to note when it comes to the research methodology and design used by the researcher for this study is that the researcher has also used the data used by other researchers for their research. This poses a potential threat when it comes to the reliability of the data because due to the fact that every research is conducted for a specific purpose and data collected and interpreted is mainly complementing that purpose, thus there is a possibility that the data is wrongly interpreted and lead to wrong results or at least some parts of the research may be invalid. This is one of the major weaknesses of relying completely on the secondary data for a research.

Another notable point is the excess use of independent variables due to the combination of comparison perspective and etiology. Though this approach gives a broader assortment to the research however it confuses the reader at the same time. There are so many points to consider that relate different reasons with children poverty and inequality which diverts the reader attention from the main focus of the study.

As for the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology used by the author, first point which becomes obvious is the use of information from varied sources. This makes the research stronger because there is much information to support an argument, however the researcher, at the same time, uses some conflicting views which confuses the reader and make it difficult for them to decide whether or not the point under discussion have an impact on child poverty and inequality.

Another point to note is that the data used from governmental sources i.e. census etc is quite reliable but their suitability to this research study is questionable. The income-based measure which follows Orshansky criteria to study the prevalence of economic deprivation, used in this study, has many limitations. According to the researcher himself, the measure does account for inflation each year and is adjusted accordingly however many other factors remained unattended which gives rise to the questions regarding its reliability. This measure fails to account for many factors like increase in real family income and consumption by children, public assistance for children, geographic differences that alter the costs of food, clothes and shelter for children etc. Moreover, the income is not adjusted for taxes and also the equivalent poverty income depending upon family sizes and adult-children family composition is not taken into account. Similarly the increase in single parent households and cohabiting partners are not taken into account. These shortcomings makes it difficult to rely on the results displayed thereof.

Another point when it comes to analyze the research approach used by the author is that there are two things under consideration: relative economic deprivation and absolute economic deprivation. Now, there are so many factors and dimensions under discussion that affects and decides whether the economic deprivation is relative or absolute and that too with different further perspectives to account for which makes it difficult for the reader to decide what is the actual factor affecting the deprivation level and growing inequality among American children. For example, factors like reliance on welfare income, children belonging from minority, children living in single parent households and immigrant children etc. all affects and decides the level of economic deprivation which is not account for thus making the research results questionable.

Specific Recommendation to Improve the Research:

The conclusion part of the research leaves many questions in the minds of the readers. It doesn’t provide any specific solution to the issue under discussion nor does it give any solid reason why less progress is made in relation to growing children poverty and inequality. It leaves it up to the reader and the future researchers to decide what is lacking and what must be ensured to cope with the issue of growing children poverty in America. This study identifies that what could be the possible reasons that this issue is not yet addressed properly like it could  be ineffective social policy or inadequate research but doesn’t ends up selecting one.

Leaving the debate open is good to encourage new thoughts on any subject however it is only recommendable when the current ideas are insufficient or have been disregarded as the possible solutions. Whereas in case of the current study under discussion there are already so many ideas and possible outcomes that leaving the choice up to the reader or future researchers will only  confuse the matter. Thus in my viewpoint this study somehow fails to contribute much towards the solution of the issue under debate.

Future Required Research:

This study have identified three independent variables as changes in family structure, changing patterns of employment and earnings, and changes in public assistance with regards to single parent households. However, there are contradicting researches as well that negate single parent households as a reason of children poverty. For example, the study by Smeeding et al (1988) shows that the states having higher number of unmarried child-bearing couples have lower children poverty rate like Sweden. This makes ‘single parent households’ as a weak choice to be taken as independent variable. This raises different questions in regards to what actually can be taken as an independent variable to study children poverty.

As for future research requirement, there is a solid need to clearly identify what actually triggers childhood poverty and inequality and what is actually contributing to increase it. As also suggested by the researcher of this study, there is an obvious need to look for some sensitive measures that incorporates many of the affecting factors, as discussed in the previous heading, so as to able to reflect and decide what affects both relative and absolute economic deprivation for children.

There is a need to identify what it is that can improve the growing inequality and poverty among children since it is very important to eradicate the problem from its roots. There is a need to see whether it is discredited cultural norms like marriage etc or it is the lack of government policies that can help make children become economically self-sufficient.  The conclusion of the study is really helpful in identifying several issues that can be taken as next approach or topic for next research.


 Lichter (1997), Poverty and Inequality Among Children, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 23, pp. 121-145

Smeeding T, et al (1988) Patterns of income and poverty: the economic status of children and the elderly in eight countries. In The Vulnerable, ed. JL Palmer, T Smeed- ing, BB Torrey, pp.89-119. Washington, DC: Urban Inst

Miles & Huberman, (1994), Qualitative data analysis, an expanded sourcebook, sage publications, the University of Michigan, ISBN 0803946538, 9780803946538


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