Kathryn Edin

I received my Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University in 1991 and I have also taught at Rutgers University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, and, most recently, Harvard University as a Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School and chair of their Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy. I am a Trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation and on the Department of Health and Human Services advisory committee for the poverty research centers at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Stanford. I am a founding member of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Network on Housing and Families with Young Children and a past member of the MacArthur Network on the Family and the Economy. In 2014 I became a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.

I study poverty by deploying ethnographic observations, in-depth interviews, and mixed method approaches to the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family life, and neighborhood contexts. I have taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that weren’t been fully answered by quantitative work, including: How do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work? Why do they end up as single mothers in the first place? Where are the fathers and why do they disengage from their children’s lives? How have the lives of the single mothers changed as a result of welfare reform?

My work has convinced many in the poverty-research community that deep insight into the lives of the poor requires both surveys and systematic qualitative explorations. A primary contribution of my research, beyond its substantive and theoretical merit, is thus the linkage between surveys and qualitative components. Now considered mainstream, this method has been incorporated into many of the most important national poverty studies.

I have authored five books with a sixth forthcoming and some 50 journal articles. The hallmark of my research is direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income women and men, such as in my 1997 book with Laura Lein, Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work (the highest selling volume ever published by the Russell Sage Foundation). This research addressed a central policy question at the time that welfare reform legislation was being debated: Why weren’t these mothers working? Through multiple, detailed interviews with 400 single mothers in four cities, my co-author Laura Lein and I found that most mothers were working—largely off-the-books—and combining resources from several sources (welfare, work, the fathers of their children, grandmothers) in order to make ends meet for themselves and their children, since welfare payments alone were not enough for them to live on.

In a 2005 book, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage, my co-author Maria Kefalas and I sought to answer another policy conundrum: Why were so many low-income women having children without marrying, when doing so seemed so difficult? Based again on in-depth interviews and observations, we found that low-income women and men wished to marry but were reluctant to do so until they were sure that they and their spouses could provide for a household successfully, holding marriage to a very high “bar.” In some poor neighborhoods, few men seemed to have the earning potential to meet that bar, but child rearing was so central to young women’s outlook on life that they were unwilling to postpone having children until they could find a suitable husband—which could take years, if ever.

In a recent book, Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City, my co-author Timothy Nelson and I report on in-depth interviews with unmarried low-income fathers who tell their side of the story. Across the political spectrum, unwed fatherhood is denounced as one of the leading social problems of today and inner-city fathers are often dismissed as “deadbeat dads.” In a multi-year ethnographic study of 110 black and white low-income, unmarried fathers in inner-city Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, we showed how mammoth economic and cultural changes have transformed the meaning of fatherhood among the urban poor. The book’s intimate interviews make real the significant obstacles faced by low-income men at every step in the familial process: from the difficulties of romantic relationships, to decision-making dilemmas at conception, to the often celebratory moment of birth, and, finally, to the hardships that accompany the early years of the child's life, and beyond. The book reveals a radical redefinition of family life, one that has revolutionized the meaning of fatherhood among inner-city men. Excerpts from Doing the Best I Can and related media can be found on the book’s website, www.doingthebestican.com.

My current work continues to capitalize on the synergies between survey and qualitative work as I further explores key questions with regard to welfare and work. Ongoing projects include: a study of extreme poverty in the U.S.; a book on the lives of the working poor; the intergenerational transmission of poverty among 150 African American young adults in inner city Baltimore and their parents, followed over 17 to 19 years; a study of the tradeoffs moderate- and low-income Black, White, and Latino families make when deciding where to live, what kind of place to rent or purchase, and where to send their children to school; and a formative study of landlords and the supply side of residential choice for low-income renters.


  • 2015 Edin, Kathy and Luke Shaefer. $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtually Nothing in America. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Forthcoming: Halpern-Meekin, Sarah, Kathryn Edin, Laura Tach and Jennifer Sykes. It’s Not Like I’m Poor: How Low Income Parents Make Ends Meet in a Post Welfare World. Berkeley CA: University of California Press. (manuscript available upon request)
  • 2013 Edin, Kathryn and Timothy Nelson. Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
  • 2007 England, Paula and Kathryn Edin, editors. Unmarried Couples with Children. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • 2005 Edin, Kathryn and Maria J. Kefalas. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (Winner, William G. Goode book award for the most outstanding contribution to family scholarship)
  • 1997 Edin, Kathryn and Laura Lein. Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation. (Honorable mention, American Sociological Association Distinguished Publication Award)
  • 1993 Edin, Kathryn. There’s a Lot of Month Left at the End of the Money: How AFDC Recipients Make Ends Meet in Chicago. New York, NY: Garland Press.

Articles, Book Chapters, Other Research Publications

  • 2013 Tach, Laura and Kathryn Edin. “The Compositional and Institutional Sources of Union Dissolution for Married and Unmarried Parents.” Demography. Forthcoming.
  • 2013 H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn Edin. “Rising Extreme Poverty in the United States and the Response of Federal Means-Tested Transfer Programs.” Social Service Review. 8(2):250-268
  • 2013 Turney, Kristin, Rebecca Kissane and Kathryn Edin. “After Moving to Opportunity: How Moving to a Low Poverty Neighborhood Improves Mental Health among African-American Women.” Society and Mental Health. 3:1-21g\.
  • 2012 Edin, Kathryn, Stefanie DeLuca and Ann Owens. “Constrained Compliance: Solving the Mystery of MTO Lease-Up Rates and Why Mobility Matters.” Cityscape. 14(2):181-194.
  • 2012 Mendenhall, Ruby, Kathryn Edin, Susan Crowley, Jennifer Sykes, Laura Tach, Katrin Kriz and Jeffrey R. Kling. “The Role of the Earned Income Tax Credit in the Budgets of Low-Income Families.” Social Service Review. 86(3):367-400.
  • 2011 Clampet-Lundquist, Susan, Kathryn Edin, Greg Duncan and Jeffrey Kling. “Moving Teenagers Out of High Risk Neighborhoods: How Girls Fare Better than Boys. American Journal of Sociology. 116(4): 1154-89.
  • 2011 Edin, Kathryn and Laura Tach. “Becoming a Parent: Social Contexts of Fertility During Young Adulthood.” In Early Adulthood in a Family Context. Booth, Alan, Susan L. Brown, Nancy S. Landale, Wendy D. Manning and Susan M McHale, Eds. New York, NY: Springer. 185-208.
  • 2011 Edin, Kathryn, Timothy Nelson and Joanna Reed. “Daddy, Baby; Momma Maybe: Low Income Urban Fathers and the ‘Package Deal’ of Family Life.” In Social Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America. Paula England and Marcia Carlson, eds. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. 85-107.
  • 2011 Tach, Laura and Kathryn Edin. “Young Disadvantaged Men as Partners.” Young Disadvantaged Men: Fathers, Families, Poverty, and Policy. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 635(1): 76-94.
  • 2010 Edin, Kathryn and Rebecca J. Kissane. “Poverty and the Family: A Decade in Review.” Journal of Marriage and Family. 72(3): 460–479.
  • 2009 Boyd, Melody, Kathryn Edin, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Greg Duncan. “The Durability of Gains from the Gautreaux Two Residential Mobility Program: A Qualitative Analysis of Who Stays and Who Moves from Low-Poverty Neighborhoods. Housing Policy Debate. 20(1): 119-146.
  • 2009 Tach, Laura, Ronald Mincy and Kathryn Edin. “Parenting as a Package Deal: Child Involvement among Unmarried Fathers.” Demography. 47(1): 181-204.
  • 2009 Augustine, Jennifer, Timothy Nelson and Kathryn Edin. “Low Income Non Custodial Men’s Role in Fertility Decisions.” Pathways to Fatherhood: A Transatlantic Perspective. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 624(1): 99-117.
  • 2009 Edin, Kathryn, Laura Tach and Ronald Mincy. “Claiming Fatherhood: Race and the Dynamics of Father Involvement among Unmarried Men.” The Moynihan Report Revisited: Lessons and Reflections after Four Decades. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Volume 621: 149-177.
  • 2007 Edin, Kathryn, Paula England, Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer and Joanna Reed. “Forming Fragile Families: Was the Baby Planned, Unplanned, or In-Between?” In Unmarried Couples with Children: The Unfolding Lives of New Unmarried Urban Parents. Paula England and Kathryn Edin, eds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • 2006 Turney, Kristin, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Kathryn Edin, Jeffrey Kling and Greg Duncan. Neighborhood Effects on Barriers to Employment: Results from a Randomized Housing Mobility Experiment in Baltimore.” Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs.
  • 2006 Gibson, Christina, Kathryn Edin and Sara McLanahan. “High Hopes but Even Higher Expectations: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of the Marriage Plans of Unmarried Couples who are New Parents.” Journal of Marriage and Family. 67(5): 301-1312.
  • 2006 Pashup, Jennifer, Kathryn Edin, Greg Duncan, and Karen Burke. “Take Up in the New Gautreaux Program.” Housing Policy Debate 18(3/4): 362-392.
  • 2005 Edin, Kathryn and Joanna M. Reed. “Why Don’t They Just Get Married? Barriers to Marriage among the Disadvantaged.” Future of Children. 15(2): 117-137.
  • 2005 Edin, Kathryn and Maria J. Kefalas. “Unmarried with Children.” Contexts. Spring. 16-22.
  • 2004 Edin, Kathryn, Maria J. Kefalas and Joanna M. Reed. “A Peek inside the Black Box: What Marriage Means for Poor Unmarried Parents.” Journal of Marriage and the Family. 67:1007-1014.
  • 2004 London, Andrew, Ellen K. Scott, Kathryn Edin and Vicki Hunter. “Welfare Reform, Work-Family Tradeoffs, and Child Well-Being.” Family Relations. 53:148-158.
  • 2004 Ellen K. Scott, Kathryn Edin, Andrew S. London, and Rebecca Joyce Kissane. "Unstable Work, Unstable Income: Implications for Family Well-Being in the Era of Time-Limited Welfare." Journal of Poverty. 8(1):61-88.
  • 2003 Clampet-Lundquist, Susan, Kathryn Edin, Andrew London, Ellen Scott, and Vicki Hunter. “Making a Way out of No Way: How Mothers Meet Basic Family Needs while Moving from Welfare to Work.” In Work-Family Challenges for Low Income Parents and Their Children. Ann C. Crouter and Alan Booth, eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates. Pp. 203-242.
  • 2003 Edin, Kathryn, Timothy J. Nelson, and Rechelle Paranal. “Fatherhood and Incarceration as Potential Turning Points in the Criminal Careers of Unskilled Men.” In Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration.” Mary Patillo, David Weiman, and Bruce Western, eds., New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Pp. 46-75.
  • 2003 Michalopoulos, Charles, Kathryn Edin, Barbara Fink, Mirella Landriscina, Denise Polit, Judy Polyne, Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, David Seith, Nandita Verma. Welfare Reform in Philadelphia: Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.
  • 2003 Edin, Kathryn. “Client-Based Ethnographic Research as a Tool for Implementation Analysis.” In Policy into Action: Implementation Research and Welfare Reform. Mary Claire Lennon and Thomas Corbett, eds. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press. Pp. 165-192.
  • 2002 Nelson, Timothy J., Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin. “Sustaining Fragile Fatherhood: Father Involvement among Low-Income, Non-Custodial, African American Fathers in Philadelphia.” In The Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Catherine Tamis-LeMonda and Natasha Cabrera, eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates. Pp. 525-553.
  • 2001 Edin, Kathryn. “More than Money: The Role of Assets in the Survival Strategies and Material Well-Being of the Poor.” In Asset Building Among the Poor. Thomas Shapiro and Edward Wolff, eds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Pp. 206-231.
  • 2001 Edin, Kathryn and Timothy J. Nelson. “Working Steady: Race, Low-Wage Work, and Family Involvement among Non-Custodial Fathers in Philadelphia.” The Problem of the Century: Racial Stratification in the United States at Century’s End. Douglas S. Massey and Elijah Anderson, eds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. 2001. Pp. 375-404.
  • 2001 Edin, Kathryn, Laura Lein, and Timothy J. Nelson. “Taking Care of Business: The Economic Survival Strategies of Low-Income Non-Custodial Fathers.” In Laboring Below the Line. Frank Munger, ed. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Pp. 125-147.
  • 2001 Polit, Denise, Rebecca Widom, Kathryn Edin, Stan Bowie, Andrew S. London, Ellen K Scott, Abel Valenzuela. Is Work Enough? The Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Mothers Who Work. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.
  • 2001 Scott, Ellen K, Kathryn Edin, Andrew S. London and Joan Maya Mazelis. “My Children Come First: Welfare-Reliant Women’s Post-TANF Views of Work-Family Tradeoffs and Marriage.” In For Better and For Worse: Welfare Reform and the Well-Being of Children and Families. P. Greg Duncan and Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, eds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Pp. 132-153.
  • 2001 Scott, Ellen K., Andrew S. London, and Kathryn Edin. “Looking to the Future: Welfare-Reliant Women Talk About Their Job Aspirations in the Context of Welfare Reform.” Journal of Social Issues. 56(4). Pp. 727-746.
  • 2000 Edin, Kathryn. “How Low-Income Single Mothers Talk About Marriage.” Social Problems. 47(1): 112-133.
  • 2000 Edin, Kathryn. “Few Good Men: Why Low-Income Single Mothers Don’t Get Married.” The American Prospect. 11(4): 26-31.
  • 1999 Quint, Janet, Kathryn Edin, Maria L. Buck, Barbara Fink, Yolanda Padilla, Olis Simmons-Hewitt, and Mary Eustace Valmont. Big Cities and Welfare Reform: Early Implementation and Ethnographic Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.
  • 1998 Edin, Kathryn and Laura Lein. “The Private Safety Net: Welfare Reform, Social Networks, Community Resources, and Family Well-Being.” Housing Policy Debate. 9(3): 541-574.
  • 1998 Edin, Kathryn and Kathleen Mullan Harris. “Race Differences in the Process of Working off Welfare.” In Latinas and African-American Women at Work: Race, Gender, and Economic Inequality. Irene Brown, ed. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Pp. 270-301.
  • 1997 Edin, Kathryn and Laura Lein. “Welfare, Work, and Economic Survival Strategies.” American Sociological Review. 61: 253-266.
  • 1995 Edin, Kathryn. “The Myths of Dependency and Self-Sufficiency: Women, Welfare, and Low-Wage Work.” Focus. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute for Research on Poverty. 17(2): 1-9.
  • 1995 Edin, Kathryn. “Single Mothers and Child Support: Possibilities and Limits of Child Support Policy.” Child and Youth Services Review. 17(1/2): 203-230.
  • 1995 Jencks, Christopher and Kathryn Edin. “Do Poor Women Have the Right to Bear Children?” The American Prospect. 1(20): 43-52.
  • 1992 Edin, Kathryn and Christopher Jencks. “Welfare.” In Rethinking Social Policy. Christopher Jencks, ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pp. 204-235.
  • 1992 Edin, Kathryn. “Counting Chicago’s Homeless: An Assessment of the Census Bureau’s ‘Street and Shelter Night.’” Evaluation Review. 16(4): 365-375.
  • 1991 Edin, Kathryn. “Surviving the Welfare System: How Welfare Recipients Make Ends Meet in Chicago.” Social Problems. 38(4): 301-312.
  • 1990 Jencks, Christopher and Kathryn Edin. “The Real Welfare Problem.” The American Prospect. 1(1): 31-50.