Social policy shaping the life-course: A study on lone parents' vulnerability

Larenza, Ornella (2019) Social policy shaping the life-course: A study on lone parents' vulnerability. PhD thesis, Université de Lausanne.

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This thesis deals with lone parents’ (LPs) vulnerability. The literature on the topic is mainly concerned with their negative outcomes, especially in terms of poverty and bad health. These studies suggest that LPs’ household structure is the main reason for their vulnerability, whereby the only breadwinner must also raise the children alone. However, such studies neglect the increasing diversity within the LP population and the role of the context in LPs’ vulnerability, particularly, the social policy context. This thesis investigated how social policies contribute to LPs’ vulnerability over the life-course. By combining cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, I carried out a case study using two waves of a qualitative panel on lone parenthood in the cantons of Vaud and Geneva (N=40 LPs with full custody). First of all, I conducted a qualitative process analysis of four emblematic stories and illustrated how lack of policy coverage, problematic access to policy support and inadequate support from policies can shape LPs’ vulnerability process and generate spill-over effects, across life domains and over time. In the two subsequent studies, I teased out two policy issues. In the former one, I showed that the legal framework on maintenance enforcement is not much helpful to mothers facing child maintenance violations. Also, not all the mothers want to react against violations, as they may face moral dilemmas, involving the other parent and their relationship with the children. Furthermore, some lone mothers accommodate to full violations by making changes to their professional trajectory, which entails repercussions on other life domains. In the latter study, I illustrated how LPs respond to poor access to social assistance benefits and how this does not just affect their economic situation but may also involve a more complex set of changes in many life domains. In the concluding study, I explored the diversity of meanings LPs attach to (re)partnering and showed that having a new partner is not necessarily seen as a way to overcome vulnerability. This research contributes to the literature on LPs’ vulnerability, by demonstrating that the latter should be understood as a process and that social policies may contribute to it as stressors. LPs’ agency reflects the configuration of the process ingredients and may be oriented by their relationships with significant others (Ethics of Care).

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