Ending Childhood Hunger Means Empowering Moms’ Finances

June 20, 2013

Kimmie Farris is spending her summer as the AmeriCorps Administrator at the YWCA. She recently completed a master’s in English literature at The University of Alabama and is entering a doctorate program for English literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall.

While doing research for a grant last week, I came across an eye-opening study about how women’s control of their family’s money can help their children to have better access to food. The study, “Father Doesn’t Know Best? Parents’ Control of Money and Children’s Food Insecurity,” by Catherine T. Kenney found that “children are far less likely to experience food insecurity when parents’ pooled income is controlled by their mother than when it is controlled by their father or even when it is jointly controlled.” Even children with single mothers (those most likely to go hungry) were shown to be less food insecure once Kenney accounted for the difference in income level between joint and single incomes.

As someone who has grown up hearing stories about how my grandmother refused to remarry – she was convinced it was best for her three young daughters if she did not introduce a new man into their lives – this struck a chord with me. Maybe my grandmother was on to something. While much remains to be proven, Kenney’s research provides statistical support for focusing efforts on empowering women financially to battle childhood hunger and poverty within the United States.

At the YWCA, we offer child care services for children from homeless and low-income families. Our staff has noticed that children eat more on Mondays than on any other day of the week, which leads us to surmise that many of these children are underfed while at home over the weekend. While providing extra food to these children can temporarily help with that gap, Kenney’s study suggests that to fix this problem on a larger scale, we need to empower mothers financially.

In Birmingham, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham (womensfundbirmingham.org) targets funding to women’s issues and, through a partnership with Gateway Financial Freedom (www.gway.org), offers financial planning courses to area women. Because of the financial impact of predatory lending on the women and children served by the YWCA, we have joined other advocates to try and pass laws which would limit the damage done by predatory lenders – which charge interest rates as high as 456% – by capping interest rates in Alabama. 

While these efforts are not directly tied to food, Kenney’s study suggests that these efforts will address food insecurity in addition to their other objectives.  Research like Kenney’s give nonprofits like the YWCA another tool for addressing food insecurity, and it gives us hope that we may one day realize a world in which all children have access to nutritious food.