UK Data Service data catalogue record for:

Mothers Alone: Poverty and the Fatherless Family, 1955-1966

Title details

SN: 5072
Title: Mothers Alone: Poverty and the Fatherless Family, 1955-1966
Alternative title: Mothers Alone
Persistent identifier: 10.5255/UKDA-SN-5072-1
Depositor: Marsden, D., University of Essex. Department of Sociology
Principal investigator(s): Marsden, D., University of Essex. Department of Sociology
Sponsor(s): Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust


The citation for this study is:

Marsden, D. (2005). Mothers Alone: Poverty and the Fatherless Family, 1955-1966. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 5072,

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Subject Categories

Child development and child rearing - Social stratification and groupings
Equality and inequality - Social stratification and groupings
Family life and marriage - Social stratification and groupings
Social and occupational mobility - Social stratification and groupings
Use and provision of specific social services - Social welfare policy and systems


Abstract copyright UK Data Service and data collection copyright owner.

This study is available via the UK Data Service QualiBank, an online tool for browsing, searching and citing the content of selected qualitative data collections held at the UK Data Service.

Dennis Marsden's study Mothers Alone: Poverty and the Fatherless Family, also known as Fatherless Families, was carried out in 1965-1966. The study explores the lives and experiences of mothers living alone: unmarried, separated, divorced or widowed. The study posed two questions: what is poverty and who are the fatherless? The study asked about housing conditions, homelessness, diet and nutrition, family relations, marriage and marital breakdowns, and the levels and adequacy of community and national assistance. The interviewees were asked about detailed indicators of poverty and also the subjective, felt experience of poverty. The study examined problems families faced as a consequence of both low income and lack of fathers, the causes of their circumstances, and the adequacy of assistance provided by community and national sources.

The study was developed from a pilot study done for a larger project, 'Poverty in the UK', by Peter Townsend.

This is an enhanced qualitative data collection. All interviews were converted from paper to partially searchable Adobe PDF files. Additional relevant documents are included in the user guide, such as the questionnaire, the original letter sent to participants with assurances of consent and confidentiality, notes on methodology, and extracts from an interview with the author about conducting this research.

Main Topics:
Detailed questions were asked about living arrangements, marriage, factors that led to fatherlessness, and family structure. Also, physical conditions of housing, furniture, water supply and heating were described. Other topics covered included sources of income (work and benefits), health, food and diet and clothing. Regarding children, data were collected about their health and education.

Coverage, universe, methodology

Time period: 1955-1956
Dates of fieldwork: 1965 - 1966
Country: England
Geography: Essex
West Yorkshire
Spatial units: No spatial unit
Observation units: Individuals
Kind of data: Textual data
Individual (micro) level
Semi-structured interview transcripts
Universe: Subnational
Mothers living on their own (or with children only), receiving National Assistance, in West Yorkshire and Essex during 1965-1966. Those selected were mostly working class mothers aged 20-40, but a few were middle class and older. The respondents had an average of two dependent children.
Time dimensions: Cross-sectional (one-time) study
Sampling procedures: Purposive selection/case studies
The sample was drawn from a pilot sample for a study on poverty in the UK, and consisted of 215 names provided by the National Assistance Board for the areas studied; a northern industrial town in West Yorkshire (population approximately 130,000), and a southern market town in Essex (population 60,000).
Number of units: 116 interviews obtained: 44 from the northern industrial town and 72 from the southern market town.
Method of data collection: Face-to-face interview
transcription of interview after the event( no audio); interviews lasted an average of two and a quarter hours.
Weighting: Not applicable

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Administrative and access information

Date of release:
First edition: 22 February 2005
Copyright: Copyright D. Marsden
Access conditions: The depositor has specified that registration is required and standard conditions of use apply. The depositor may be informed about usage. See terms and conditions of access for further information.
Availability: UK Data Service
Contact: Get in touch


Title File Name Size (KB)
User Guide 5072uguide.pdf 3284
Data Listing q5072ulist.pdf 24
Study information and citation UKDA_Study_5072_Information.htm 6
READ File read5072.txt 4
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Related case studies:

Unmarried mothers in modern England


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By principal investigator(s):
Marsden, D. (1969) Mothers alone: poverty and the fatherless family, London: Penguin Press.

Resulting from secondary analysis:
Thane P. (2011), 'Unmarried motherhood in twentieth-century England', Women's History Review, 20(1), pp.11-29.

Evans, T. and Thane, P. (2006), 'Secondary analysis of Dennis Marsden's 'Mothers Alone'', Methodological Innovations Online, 1(2).

Gillies, V. and Edwards, R. (2012) 'Working with archived classic family and community studies: illuminating past and present conventions around acceptable research practice', International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 15 (4), pp. 321-30.

Cowan, D. (2018) 'Modern parenting and the uses of childcare advice in post-war England', Social History, 43(3) (August).


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