Vulnerability of Lone Mothers over the Life Course in Switzerland

TitleVulnerability of Lone Mothers over the Life Course in Switzerland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsStruffolino, E, Bernardi, L
JournalLIVES Working Paper
Keywordseducation, employment, health, life course, lone mothers, vulnerability

This paper contributes to the understanding of vulnerability of lone mothers in Switzerland. Vulnerability is a dynamic process along which individuals may experience falls and losses of resources, but through which they might also rise and gain empowerment as a consequence of coping and adaptation mechanisms. Vulnerability that originates within one specific life domain (e.g. family, employment, health) can then spill over to other life domains. Lone mothers and their children are often identified as vulnerable populations because of their overrepresentation among the poor and the less healthy compared to the general population. Yet, lone mothers are increasingly heterogeneous in terms of social background and resources, so that durations into and experiences of lone motherhood vary substantially. Such heterogeneity poses new challenges for defining the relative disadvantage of lone mothers and their families which we argue should have to be appraised through a multidimensional perspective. Drawing on a number of quantitative and qualitative data sources we first discuss the transition to lone parenthood and in which ways it is relevant to the analysis of multidimensional vulnerability for lone mothers in the Swiss context. Second, we refer to original empirical results on lone mothers’ labour market participation over the last two decades by focussing on differences by age and educational level. Finally, we discuss various findings on the relationship between lone parenthood, employment, and health from our research project on lone mothers to highlight the conjunctures of disadvantages across life-course domains leading to vulnerability. Switzerland is an interesting case study, because of a welfare shaped around a two-parent and one main earner family model and a gendered unequal distribution of caring and financial responsibility within the family. Weak work-family reconciliation policies discourage mothers’ full-time participation to the labour market. In such context particularly, the transition to lone motherhood might represents excessive strains for parents who have little choice but to take on alone both full care and financial responsibilities.

Refereed DesignationNon-Refereed