Lone Mothers Between the Welfare State and Informal Support

Author: Hoff, Andreas
This book is concerned with the question of what role informal support networks play in the welfare mix of contemporary welfare states. Family and friends provide informal support on the one hand, and voluntary organizations on the other. Using data from 116 semi-structured interviews with lone mothers in the United Kingdom and Germany, the question of whether different welfare systems influence individual support mobilization strategies is investigated. Lone mothers were selected because of their limited earning capacities that often result in a life in poverty and social exclusion – for them and for their children. It was shown in this research that informal and formal support alleviates these effects and the research project is guided by four main objectives: (1) to map ways in which lone mothers mobilize support from different sources; (2) to investigate whether lone mothers develop support mobilization strategies in turning to formal and/or informal support sources; (3) to analyze whether differences in welfare state systems result in variances in informal support mobilization behavior; and finally, and (4) to evaluate the role and importance of voluntary organizations as support providers for lone mothers. Empirical evidence is provided to demonstrate that informal support networks influence the utilization of formal support. In contrast, variations in welfare state provision do not appear to have a significant impact on support mobilization behavior. Indeed, formal support mobilization is a function of demographic characteristics, influenced by receipts from means-tested benefits and the extent of informal support. The utilization of informal support was dependent on network structural and demographic variables, as well as reciprocity norms.


“This study, by examining the predicaments of lone mothers in Germany and the United Kingdom is, therefore, to be greatly welcomed. In particular, it not only brings into the frame the range of state benefits available to claimants, but also – more importantly – the provision and mobilization of informal support. Among the many thought-provoking outcomes are those counter-intuitive findings, which challenge conventional wisdom ... The compelling lesson from this research is that individual support mobilization of lone mothers is determined by their specific predicaments, and not by their residence in different welfare states. This observation has fundamental consequences for state-supervised social inclusion measures for this ‘at risk’ group.” – (from the Preface) Professor Steen Mangen, University of London

“There is now a large literature on comparative welfare states but rather little good comparative empirical research that seeks to test the effects of welfare states on people’s lives as they are lived in the round. In particular, this study brings into the frame both the range of state benefits available but also, more importantly, the provision and mobilization of informal support. It shows that, despite at that time better universal family policies in Germany than in the UK, the German lone mothers did not fare more favorably than British lone mothers.” – Professor Julia Brannen, University of London

“This book is an important new contribution to the existing literature on lone motherhood. Based on semi-structured interviews with lone mothers in both the UK and Germany, it considers the role of formal and informal support systems in the everyday lives of the women. It examines the ways in which lone mothers are embedded in social networks and shows that reciprocity is a key feature of informal support. This is a book which recognizes that lone mothers are far more than passive victims of their circumstances, and which explores how they manage and shape their lives in the context of the resources available to them.” – Professor Jane Millar, University of Bath

Table of Contents

List of tables
List of figures
Preface by Steen Mangen
1. Introduction
2. Trends in Lone Parenthood in Germany and the UK
3. Lone Mothers and the Welfare State
4. Lone Parent Organizations as Support Providers
5. Characterizing Lone Parent Organization Members
6. Informal Support Mobilization of Lone Mothers
7. Formal Support Mobilization of Lone Mothers
8. The Link Between Formal and Informal Support
9. Conclusions