Family structure and the reproduction of inequalities

Sara McLanahan*, Christine Percheski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

494 Scopus citations


Over the past four decades, income inequality has increased and family structures have diversified. We argue that family structure has become an important mechanism for the reproduction of class, race, and gender inequalities. We review studies of income inequality and family structure changes and find a wide range of estimates of the correlation. We discuss how increases in income inequality may lead to increases in single motherhood, particularly among less educated women. Single motherhood in turn decreases intergenerational economic mobility by affecting children's material resources and the parenting they experience. Because of the unequal distribution of family structure by race and the negative effects of single motherhood, family structure changes exacerbate racial inequalities. Gender inequalities also increase as mothers incur more child-related costs and fewer fathers experience family life with children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAnnual Review of Sociology
EditorsKaren Cook, Douglas Massey
Number of pages20
StatePublished - Sep 5 2008

Publication series

NameAnnual Review of Sociology
ISSN (Print)0360-0572


  • Gender
  • Income
  • Race
  • Single parent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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