Date of Award

Spring 2017

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Robert Outten


Social science research has found that single mothers tend to be viewed more negatively than married mothers. However, single mothers are not a monolithic group, they can vary in terms of their marital status. Informed by DiLiapi’s (1989) motherhood hierarchy, we hypothesized that relative to never married single mothers, formerly married single mothers (i.e., widowed and divorced) would garner more sympathy, more favorable character evaluations and people would also be more willing to support maternity leave policies as a result of thinking about formerly married single mothers compared to never married single mothers. To test these predictions participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions where they read a vignette about a single mother named Maya. What varied between conditions was her marital status; either Maya was never married, divorced or widowed. Afterwards, participants completed measures of sympathy toward Maya, six character evaluations of Maya, and rated their endorsement of four maternity leave policies. We found some significant effects for Maya’s marital status, such that relative to participants assigned to divorced or widowed conditions, participants assigned to the never married condition expressed significantly less sympathy toward Maya, perceived Maya as significantly more irresponsible and selfish. No significant differences were found between divorced and widowed conditions. We also examined if sympathy mediated the effect of marital status (previously married: divorced and widowed vs. never married) on character traits and maternity leave policies. All ten mediation models tested were significant, such that people evaluated Maya more positively and supported maternity leave policies more when she was previously married, compared to when she had never been married, because they felt more sympathy. We discuss the implications of these findings for future social science research and public policy initiatives geared toward single mothers.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College, Hartford Connecticut for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Psychology.