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Despite comparatively modest welfare reforms in Canada relative to those of the United States, employment rates and earnings among single mothers have risen by virtually identical magnitudes in the two countries since 1980. We show that most of the gains in Canada and a substantial share of the change in the United States were the result of the dynamics of cohort replacement and population aging as the large and better educated baby boom generation replaced earlier cohorts and began entering their forties. In both countries, demographic effects were the main factor accounting for higher employment and earnings among older (40 and over) single mothers. Changes among younger single mothers, in contrast, were mainly the result of changes in labour market behaviour and other unmeasured variables. Overall, demographic changes dominated in Canada but not in the United States for two reasons: (a) Canadian single mothers are significantly older than their U.S. counterparts; and, (b) consistent with the welfare reform thesis, the magnitude of behavioural change among younger single mothers was much larger in the United States.

Keywords: female single parents, employment rate, earnings