Measuring the effects of a widow’s conspicuous consumption and its impact on child welfare: an empirical analysis

Kyle Fluegge, Ohio State University

This research seeks the use of a pilot study to assess the impact of widowed, female-headed households on child outcomes. It is a general concession that single, female-headed households have a more adverse effect on child outcomes. We principally focus this study to assess the impact of grief and bereavement in losing a spouse for a woman with dependent children and how their welfare is affected. We seek to control the marriage, income, and gender variables, using a comparison of thirty consumption categories for four cohort groups. Through an initial difference-of-means analysis of survey data for N=25, our study rejects the hypothesis that widowhood will not incline mothers to engage in significantly different consumption habits in eight categories. We then used an ordinal logit analysis to produce regression models to predict the probabilities that a member of each cohort group would consume a good in one of these categories. Our measure was based on the participant’s survey responses to their own visible attentiveness to a neighbor’s changing consumption of those eight categories, thus minimizing self-report bias. This latter analysis outlines the willingness for a widow to pay for luxury goods versus necessities. The results showed a “crowding out” of a child’s education for the luxuries of jewelry, furniture, and cable, pets, sports, and concerts; however, an added income constraint does mitigate consumption of the first and third categories, although this result was not statistically significant. This has major policy implications regarding a constricting Social Security system as a result of the aging ‘baby boomers.’ Thus it might be necessary to initiate mandatory grief counseling for widows whose labor supply decreases both in the short- and long-term to ensure government support is indeed benefiting the widow and/or her dependent children.

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Presented in Session 37: Demographic Determinants of Child Welfare