Claudia Gardberg Morner
Making Ends Meet : Lone Mothers' Local Subsistence Strategies. Case Studies from Italy and Sweden

Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 13
ISSN: 1437-8574

This report is concerned with lone-mother families in Sweden and Italy. The study focuses on subsistence strategies, that is, how mothers combine different sources of income and support in order to make ends meet financially. Subsistence strategies are worked out in the intersection between labour market, welfare systems and personal or informal networks, and the mothers' relations with these different spheres are investigated. The research focus is local and urban, based on qualitative interviews with lone mothers in two peripheral areas in the cities of Göteborg and Torino.
The research, as well as the outline of the report, is based on a methodological approach that tries to capture the different levels between the structure and the individual. A point of departure is the structural level of national policy and of overarching changes in the welfare system and labour market in the two project countries during the 1990s. The situation of lone mothers in the two different national contexts is discussed.
An important aspect of the project lies in its local focus, the significance of the local context in lone mothers' choice of subsistence strategies. The local project areas in Torino and Göteborg are therefore described in relative detail in order to capture and present the "different levels of locality" that I discern between the city/municipality level and the individual level.
The study hence brings together a variety of information at the national and local levels and includes different aspects that have an impact on the living conditions of lone mothers, such as social policies, (local) labour markets, family relationships, local infrastructure and neighbourhood. The main focus, however, is on the individual level and the mothers' own interpretation of their situation.
The interviews revealed that the lone mothers participating in the present research tended to evaluate their relationships with the labour market, welfare system and personal networks in terms of dependency and autonomy. These concepts were then applied at the level of individual experience. The same pair of concepts is often used at the level of policy formation, where for instance individual autonomy is considered an important prerequisite of social citizenship. These concepts are further elaborated in the concluding sections of the report, where I discuss the composition of lone mothers' income packages in the Italian and Swedish samples, the possible significance of that composition for the families, and the mothers' interpretation of their relationships with different actors in the surrounding society.