A single mom’s job loss may haunt children for years, study says

A single mother's job loss could hurt children for years, according to a new study. Pictured here, Julia Roberts, who played the single mom Erin Brockovich.
(Bob Marshak / Universal Studios)

The children of single mothers who unexpectedly lose their jobs suffer severe negative repercussions well into their adult years, according to a UCLA study.

Children whose mothers were laid off were much less likely to graduate from high school and college, and much more likely to endure depression into their late 20s, according to researchers at the California Center for Population Research at UCLA.

The effects were particularly pronounced among children who were aged 12 to 17 when their mothers were laid off. That may have been due to the children being more aware of the parent’s setback and more prone to feelings of shame or stigma.

Though unemployment has been heightened in recent years because of the soft economy, the ill effects on a child were strongest if a mother had a stable work history, didn’t foresee a layoff and if the job loss occurred during a strong economy. In such cases, a child may have been less likely to chalk up a layoff to broader issues affecting society as a whole.


Perhaps most troubling, the dynamic could perpetuate itself from one generation to the next, said Jennie Brand, associate director of the research center and co-author of the report.

“The kids, by virtue of having less education and having some social psychological issues, could themselves be at greater risk of job loss in the future,” Brand said. “That’s a concern too, that we could potentially see an inter-generational transmission of job instability.”

According to the study, the children of laid-off mothers were 15% less likely to finish high school by age 19 than those whose moms weren’t laid off. They were 24% less likely to go to college by age 21 and 33% less likely to graduate by age 25.

Children who were 12 to 17 when the job loss occurred were 40% less likely to complete high school and 45% less likely to graduate from college.


The report analyzed three decades of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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