Moms Help Jobless Sons and Daughters

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“Families often serve as the first line of defense against adverse events,” a RAND study starts out.

In this case, the researchers are talking about a mother who protects her unemployed adult child by providing financial assistance, a request that’s not easy for a mother to resist.

RAND researchers Kathryn Edwards and Jeffrey Wenger find that women of all ages are very likely to help out and “significantly alter their behavior” when a son or daughter loses a job.

How much mothers’ sacrifices affect their standard of living are beyond the scope of this study. But although unemployment is at historic lows today, when a child does lose a job, a mother who provides assistance is potentially exposing herself and her husband to financial problems down the road.

The types of the assistance the women in the study provided varied for different groups. The youngest group, working-age mothers between 35 and 62, were the most willing to help an unemployed child, though women of all ages did to some extent.

Mothers employed full-time, and in some cases their partners or husbands, worked more to earn additional money, an option largely closed off to the retired women. Another way working mothers adjusted was to reduce their contributions to employer retirement funds. All of the women also cut their own food budgets for a year or more.

This study is a conservative take on their assistance, because it doesn’t include an indirect, but often costly, source of support that is an obvious solution for unemployed offspring: moving back home. Moving back in will, at minimum, increase their parents’ utility and grocery bills.

Half of all working households are already poorly prepared for retirement. The concern raised in this study is that mothers’ generosity now could mean more financial trouble when they stop working.

To read Edwards’ and Wenger’s working paper, see “Parents with an Unemployed Adult Child: Labor Supply, Consumption, and Savings Effects.” The study is also forthcoming in the IZA Journal of Labor Economics.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.


Excellent paper. I hope it gets published, and that, inspired by their success, the authors will go on to do analogous research on unemployed spouses.

Geoffrey Hewitt

Actually doing this does a disservice because it doesn’t allow their children to EXCEL on their own. My parents were English and really, after I left school, never supported me, but fed money to my brother and step father to no end. I never knew about this until MY stepfather told me at my mother’s funeral; he wanted to tell me the jealousy he had for all the help she gave my brother. I told him to get BENT since I was not in that group. So they both got used to the BIG NIPPLE with endless food. To this day, it disgusts me they both never grew up. I have helped my BOYS way more than I ever got help; at one point, I even worked 6 months without a day off in the hospitality business. I still have no regrets.

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