Family Structure and Income Redistribution: Comparing Child Poverty Outcomes in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States

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The United States has greater income inequality and higher child poverty than any other industrialized, wealthy nation, which greatly impacts opportunities for American children. Given that social and economic institutions are predicated on the breadwinner-homemaker family structure as the ideal family, family formation and living arrangements also appear to create disadvantages and high poverty risk for some children. Government income redistribution policies have varied success in reducing child poverty, especially among children living in vulnerable family structures. Cross-national comparisons may provide useful information for improving the effectiveness of antipoverty policies.

This study used data from Wave V of the Luxembourg Income Study to comparatively analyze income redistribution and relative child poverty in various family structures in nationally representative samples from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Single mother, single father, two-parent, single grandmother, single grandfather, and two-parent grandparent families with children under the age of 18 were analyzed. Structural functional theory is used as a guiding conceptual framework. Results indicate that income from government programs is differentially redistributed across various family structures in all three countries, often with smaller child poverty reductions among more vulnerable family structures. Single mother families have the highest child poverty rates at each phase of income redistribution, while two-parent families have the lowest rates. Children living in grandparent-headed families experience the largest reductions in poverty through income redistribution. Children living in households with young children have higher poverty rates at each phase of income redistribution than children living in households with no young children, yet they experience smaller reductions in poverty across all three countries. The United States has the highest child poverty rates in all examined structures at each phase of income redistribution, while the United Kingdom reduces child poverty by the largest proportion. While income is redistributed differentially by family structure, the utilization of structural characteristics for policy development is questioned. Policy implications for improving child poverty reduction efforts in the United States through labor market regulation, caregiving relief, and caregiving support are discussed.