Publication Date



This paper reports findings from an analysis of economic well-being among female headed households. Previous theoretical and empirical work in this area suggests that poverty among female headed families is to some extent an intergenerational process, a vicious cycle. One common explanation for this pattern is that low socioeconomic status in a woman’s family of origin results in low educational attainment and, ultimately, in low earning capacity. However, an exclusive focus on education may overlook the long term dynamics of the household as an institution that can accumulate assets to enhance economic well-being across generations. Using data from the National Survey of Families and Households, we test an intergenerational model of economic well-being among female headed households. Parental socioeconomic status is hypothesized to affect both educational attainment and asset accumulation of adult daughters. Education and assets are then hypothesized to have positive effects on the economic well-being of households comprised of adult daughters and their children. Results of path analysis demonstrate that both education and assets have positive effects on economic well-being among female headed families. However, parental socioeconomic status works almost entirely through asset accumulation rather than education in shaping the economic well-being of such families. Our findings indicate that assets play a central role in the intergenerational transmission of poverty for female headed families. Results suggest that educational strategies for women who are single parents should be balanced with asset building initiatives.

Document Type

Working Paper


Financial Inclusion


Asset Building


Subsequent publication: Cheng, L.-C. (1999). Assets accumulation and intergenerational transmission among female headed families. NTU Social Work Review, 1, 113–143.

Original Citation

Cheng, L. C., & Page-Adams, D. (1996). Education, assets and intergenerational well-being: The case of female headed families (CSD Working Paper No. 96-3). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.


education, Women, poverty, household, assets, intergenerational