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Women without Men: Domestic Organization and the Welfare State as Seen in a Coastal Community of Puerto Rico

Lydia Morris
The British Journal of Sociology
Vol. 30, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 322-340
DOI: 10.2307/589911
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/589911
Page Count: 19
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Women without Men: Domestic Organization and the Welfare State as Seen in a Coastal Community of Puerto Rico
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Abstract

Relating household forms to socio-economic status in El Bajo, Puerto Rico, I give a summary of the economic situation there, and detail the roles of various forms of public assistance. I show how half the male household heads and 21 of 27 female household heads are dependent on aid. Comparisons within El Bajo are made, showing an increase in unstable marriage associated with the introduction of assistance to single mothers; and a lower rate of instability where the man is regularly employed. Expansion of occupations termed 'middle class' has brought a preoccupation with social mobility and an appreciation of a 'good marriage' as a means to this end. Yet female-headed homes persist. Welfare regulations withdraw assistance from the single mother should she cohabit with a man, thus producing a new household form contrary to the dominant value system. A review of matrifocality points out ambiguities and inadequacies, and illustrates the variety of households masked by the term. Comparison is made with a community in Venezuela, similar to El Bajo, but for the absence of aid. There the three generation household is a response to unstable marriage. I conclude that in El Bajo, the two generation, female-headed household constitutes a newly emergent form, in response to the practical demands of the current situation, aid removing the need for the three generational home.

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